Sometimes, there are parts of something we say or write that we find haven’t finished with us. They demand more attention.
I found this to be the case with the post I wrote on Sunday. I referred to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where gold is used to recreate broken ceramics in a form that is different to, but in many ways more beautifiul than the original. It left me with three questions to think about – what is it with the way we work that is broken; what are the pieces we are left with, and where do we find the gold with which to bring them back together into something beautiful?
What is broken?
The two platforms on which we have created the world we live in are democracy and capitalism. What Churchill said of democracy can also be said I think about Capitalism:
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”Winston Churchill. 1947.
Both are conceptually elegant, practical, effective – and fragile. It feels to me that both have been abused to the point that they are effectively broken. The nature of what is broken, and the pieces that are salvageable are huge subjects, and too long for this post – I’ll reflect on them another time.
In this post, I’d like to reflect on the nature of the material we use to repair what is broken.
I find the idea of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — building on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art can be created, very attractive.
I find the idea of alchemy – turning base metal into gold – a powerful metaphor. It has four stages – nigredo, “blackening” where the base material is reduced to its component elements; albedo, “whitening” where the parts needed to create gold are brought together; cintrinitas, “yellowing” as the parts start to combine and finally rubedo; “reddening” as the process is completed.
I think we have allowed ourselves to take the incredible elements we have created in building our economies – science, education, healthcare, agriculture, art and philosophy and brought them together using the cheapest social alloy we have able to create – the dogma of people as passive consumers rather than active citizens. Something that holds the parts together just long enough for a few people to take the money and run. And now, inevitably, that cheap alloy has failed.
How might we take the inferior alloy we have ended up using and turn it into the equivalent of gold?
I’d like to consider this briefly in three parts – the alloy that is us, the one that is our immediate close group, and finally the alloy that is the tools and assumptions we use .
Us as individuals
Picasso had it nailed. He said that “all children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up“. Most of us have been channelled into an education system designed to feed the economic engine that is failing us. When things were more stable, that worked after a fashion but in current conditions it leaves us with people perfectly prepared for a world that no longer exists.
Human Beings have a vast range of intellectual, intuitive, emotional and sensory capabiities, and yet we are educated and assessed on a fairly restricted range of subjects, and compliance and “being right” is prioritised over curiosity and creativity. In a world where we can create algorithms to be “right” and compliant, that does not bode well for us.
However, the capability is always there – it just needs surfacing. Surfacing it needs two things – a will to do it, and a supportive space to do it in.
There are increasing numbers of places to do it – some within the state system, more without. Generally speaking, authorities are happier dealing with subjects they can control than with citizens with whom they have to collaborate. The place to start, I suggest, is in small groups of people looking to do the same, finding our own way. We already have all the capabilities we need – we just need to give them some exercise.
There are some great resources. Have a look at Ian Berry (he has a whole new programme starting shortly), or look at Jon Alexander’s ideas or Originize. Get inspiration from Sam Conniff in Be More Pirate. Have a look at New Artisans.
Whatever we do, it starts with us. Scary, but true.
The Group we work with
We become the average of the five people we most associate with. We need to choose carefully. People doing things we can learn from, and who will in turn learn from us. People we trust, because we are going to be stretched and we are going to make mistakes. People who embody expedition behaviours. As an American friend said to me “you’re not going to soar like an Eagle if you keep company with Turkeys”
The Tools we use
We are surrounded by self help books, “solutions”, and “expert advice” is showered on us via all manner of social media. All have something useful to say, none are a substitute for doing the hard yards. We are all artists, but finding that artist, and giving him or her a voice, is an expedition.
Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.
Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”
― Antonio Machado, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems
Whether it’s us, our close group, or the tools we use nobody else is going to show us the way. If we want to release the artist in us, we have to embrace personal alchemy. Understand who we are, what we want to keep and what we want to let go. Work with people who will help us, find our own voice, make our own path.
Alchemy requires a crucible – a vessel that will cope with the temperatures and pressures that go with the work of bringing who we really are to the party.
The Crucible is a a small group of people you can learn from and teach as we make your own path and find our own voice. People we can learn to trust to keep us afloat when we make mistakes, and celebrate with us when it all comes together. Those and who will tell us unflinchingly which is which in their eyes.
Start small, but start
It is said that that the first lesson in developing resilience is understanding that nobody is coming to rescue us. We have to make the moves ourselves, and to do that together. Protests are satisfying but largely theatrical, because those against whom we protest have no more idea how to change direction than we do.
Reccognise your own capabilities, and of those around you, and start conversations. Take the small steps that work for you to make that journey from dependence, to independence, to chosen interdependence. There are far more people out there wanting to do the same than we recognise, who are waiting to have that conversation.
The path is made by walking. The will to do it is down to us.