Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | April 14, 2018

Perfectionism: Type A and Type B

There are two very different types of perfectionism.

Type A: interiorised perfectionism driven by personal, internal criteria. As an apocryphal story goes, one of the presidents of Harvard University was once asked what was so special in teaching at Harvard to justify their extortionate fees. His answer was of just three words: “We teach criteria”. Cambridge appears to be the only university in Britain which teaches criteria. I know — I myself was lucky to get my own education at a boarding school and an university which taught criteria. Among my mathematician colleagues (and co-authors) I know a number of Type A perfectionists. Some of my friends on Facebook teach or spread criteria — by means of art classes, or mathematics circles, or lectures on history of mathematics, or poetry evenings …

Type B: external perfectionism, a Pavlovian dog reflex to meet crude criteria, at the level of metrics, rankings, “likes” on social  media — all of them imposed from outside. In modern world, most perfectionists belong to Type B. IMHO, the best inoculation against the soul-destroying Type B perfectionism is development of a system of deeply interiorised personal criteria. In principle, this is what education should give to every child. It fails. Moreover, the vast majority of schools and universities spread the disease.

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