Make Kintsugi

“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2

This is the Red Belt of Mixed Mental Arts:

  • Technology and globalism are breaking the old ways of doing things. In order to survive the transition, we have to make kintsugi by reframing what we already have to see how those pieces can fit together to make something more beautiful than what we had before.
  • The key to  flourishing in the creative destruction brought by a global society is to get opposite sides to talk together and balance each other out, and fill the fractures.
  • Bridging the gap between your point of view and someone else’s requires thoroughly understanding their moral intuitions so that you can reframe the issue in terms that appeal to them as in “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
In Act II, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young Prince is in conversation with his two friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The young Prince is depressed and finds his home country of Denmark to be like a prison. This seems outlandish to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Denmark? A prison? In their minds, Denmark is a great place. In reality, Denmark just is. Denmark is only made good or bad by the context in which we put it. On the other side of the world, the Chinese tell a story that beautifully illustrates this principle. It’s known as “the old man who lost his horse.”
Good. Bad. Too soon to tell.

A Chinese farmer’s horse runs away one day. Seeing this as a piece of misfortune, the villagers run to the farmer and express their condolences on this terrible piece of bad luck. The wise, old farmer shrugs his shoulders and says, “Good. Bad. Too soon to tell.”

The next day the horse comes back and following it is a beautiful wild stallion. Seeing this as a tremendous piece of good luck, the other villagers run to the farmer and congratulate him on this amazing piece of good luck. The wise, old farmer shrugs his shoulders and says, “Good. Bad. Too soon to tell.”

The day after, the farmer’s son is out breaking the horse in and the stallion throws his only son off his back. His son is crippled. Seeing this as an obvious piece of bad luck, the villagers run to the farmer and express their deep sorrow at this tragedy. The wise, old farmer shrugs his shoulders and says, “Good. Bad. Too soon to tell.”

On the fourth day, the army marches into town and conscripts all the young men to go off to war, except the farmer’s only son who, now crippled, is unfit for service. Seeing this as a blessing on the farmer and his family, the villagers express how they wish their sons had been crippled too so they didn’t have to go off to war either. What a good luck that the farmer’s son was crippled! The wise, old farmer shrugs his shoulders and says, “Good. Bad. Too soon to tell.”

This parable (or joke) can go on for many more beats. However, the insight into how our brains work that the Taoists spotted was the same insight that Shakespeare had. Our emotions so powerfully frame our reality that they can get us trapped in thinking of things in a certain way. We can believe things are good or bad. Math can seem scary even though it’s just squiggles on a piece of paper. Mistakes can seem like a source of shame or they can inspire curiosity about what went wrong and act as a source for improvement. Knowing this, you can do something incredible; you can deliberately reframe how you see things to spot opportunities that have been right in front of your eyes all along. That reframing is the cornerstone of what making kintsugi is all about.

Making kintsugi takes #IdeaSex to the next level.

Repaired with Gold
Photograph  via Wikimedia
Long ago in Japan, there was a lord who had many beautiful pieces of artwork. He took great pride in them. He was especially proud of his fine pottery. One day, while a monk was visiting, he dropped one of his finest, priceless Chinese bowls. It shattered. Distraught at the loss of such a valuable work of craftsmanship, he didn’t want to throw it away. However, the monk told the lord not to worry, and asked the lord to give him the pieces.

Many days passed. When the monk returned, the lord did was astonished at the repairs the monk had done. The monk had mixed lacquer with gold flakes, and filled in the cracks with the mixture. The shattered bowl had been transformed by the beauty of the repairs, into something even more beautiful than it was before.

And that’s not something you have to be Japanese to do.

Meet William Kamkwamba.

Maj. Bill Eberhardt touches noses with a Maori warrior during a Powhiri, or traditional welcoming ceremony Aug. 18 at Christchurch, New Zealand. The touching of noses signifies a mingling together in peace of “two sides,” in this case, the Maori and Airmen from McChord Air Force Base, Wash.
Making kintsugi is not only how we keep the human family together but how we make it into something stronger and more beautiful.

In order to maintain the structural integrity of the pot every side has to be valued and repaired. The same is true for humans; each side must be valued in order to work out our differences and come to solutions that benefit the whole. Atheist and Muslim. American and Russian. East and West. Honor culture and dignity culture. These pieces may not seem to fit together and yet like the pieces of pottery in a kintsugi pot they are all essential pieces for a better whole. Nowhere is that more obvious than with liberals and conservatives.

In every culture, liberals and conservatives are fighting, but both are needed for a functional society. Liberals are often too hasty when it comes to innovating society, so they sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater. Conservatives, on the other hand, can be too strict in holding to tradition in an ever changing world.

To reach the best conclusion, we must  thoughtfully bounce back and forth between different viewpoints, take what works, discard what does not, and add what is uniquely our own. All sides are needed to make a great Undoing Project, to figure out how to keep the baby and throw out the dirty bathwater.

Bringing two sides together is hard work. It requires the ability to improvise. It takes faith and courage. To master the red belt, you have to pull together everything you’ve learned in the other belts.

The White Belt teaches us we’re all in a culture. The Yellow Belt teaches us our culture binds us together, and blinds us to the others outside of our own culture. The Orange Belt, Purple Belt, and Brown Belt teach us that our feelings and reason are not separate entities, and give us tools to learn. The Green Belt and Blue Belt inspire us to be the change we want to see. The Red Belt  gives us a roadmap to not just build a better Mixed Mental Arts community, but more importantly a better human family.

We must seek out the broken pieces of the human family. It’s awkward. It’s scary. It seems impossible. It requires hearing things that are uncomfortable. It requires confessing things that terrify us. It requires a ton of work. Sometimes bridging our differences is so  difficult, we have to start with something easy we can agree on. Maybe it’s food, or music, or boxing as in the South African novel The Power of One. As we fill the cracks between us, it becomes easier to fill more.
Productive conversations often begin with a shared interest, building a foundation of respect and trust that allows them to shift to more emotionally difficult topics.

Bridging the gap between your point of view and someone else’s requires thoroughly understanding their moral intuitions. The one moral intuition that all groups draw on is fairness. It’s the ultimate common ground.

Fairness doesn’t have to be polite. Look at South Park.  For more than two decades it’s managed to make fun of every group by being fair. Not only do they make fun of EVERYONE, they also recognize both the virtues and the faults in each group.  You don’t have to be as vulgar as South Park, but by respecting people, and recognizing the merits of their point of view, you can build kintsugi instead of staring at broken pieces.

By reframing an issue to fill the cracks, like the people who came up with the slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas,” as a method to combat littering and it grew from there, you can use all the skills and techniques in the Belt System to build kintsugi.
Now, we are faced with a choice: let the cracks between us widen until we eventually break apart, and throw away the pieces; or fill in the cracks with gold, and create something stronger and more beautiful than we had before.

 Further Reading




Next Page