The beauty of betterment
Review of "How to be Perfect" by Michael Schur.
What does it mean to be “good?” Michael Schur, an established television writer and producer (The Good Place, The Office, Parks and Rec), is fascinated by humanity’s many answers to this question. How to be Perfect is his unconventional and conversational moral philosophy primer. With cheeky wit and gracious, self-aware insight, Schur ponders the theories of ancient teachers alongside the ideas of modern thinkers and entertaining examples from his own storied life.
As Schur goes through the “Big Three” in Western moral philosophy – virtue ethics, deontology, and utilitarianism – he exhibits a knack for presenting complex theories in an accessible, amusing way. The chapter titles alone are entertaining (e.g. “Do I Have to Return My Shopping Cart to the Shopping Cart Rack Thingy? I Mean… It’s All The Way Over There.”)
That’s not to say there isn’t deep wisdom, here – inspiring wisdom, even, especially in Schur’s musings about human interconnectedness and how one person’s actions shape our shared world. He celebrates, for example, the Southern African concept of ubuntu – a worldview rooted in communal life and togetherness. He acknowledges that while he and all of us may never find the “golden mean” of empathy or other virtues, our ethical quests are worthwhile because they can help us “flourish” and become “flexible, inquisitive, adaptable, and better people.” Not perfect, but better.
As Schur states early in the book, instead of focusing on philosophers explicitly considered “religious,” such as Aquinas or Kierkegaard, he chooses those considered “secular,” such as Kant and Aristotle as well as a handful of current scholars. Even so, any reader invested in the definition of “goodness” as defined by Christ-likeness will find much to admire, perhaps even champion, while pursuing the fruits of the spirit and seeking to love one another as oneself – not perfectly, but better than before.