Legend has it that a Japanese shogun was dismayed when he dropped his favorite tea bowl. Since the bowl was made in China, he sent it back to China for repair. What was returned to him was his bowl with ugly staples.

The shogun asked Japanese craftsmen whether they could repair his bowl in a way that made it more pleasing to look at. What resulted was a bowl that accented the broken lines rather than just rejoining them to the bowl. The accented breakage lines added value to the bowl and gave it an inspirational quality connoting the value of finding beauty in the renewal of broken things. See an example here.

The concept of Kintsugi applies to humans as it does to ceramics. Throughout the history of humankind, there have been remarkable achievements by persons who were once broken but went on to live purposeful lives.

The Japanese craftsman who practices Kintsugi developed a craft out of restoring broken ceramics. Think of the craft involved in repairing broken humans. While every broken person is different the Kintsugi of human recovery is largely one of

  • Reestablishing safety in their lives
  • Discovering others who care for them
  • Trusting others as guides
  • Experiencing a crucible moment where the future becomes visible
  • Learning how to practice self-reflection
  • Embracing regret and learning from it
  • Building internal confidence of self-worth

Unlike the Kintsugi craftsman in Japan, all of us can practice Kintsugi with those who are struggling. Imagine if we approached others with a Kintsugi attitude and the impact that would have on our society. How would that differ from our current approach which is often very unforgiving?

Shame, humiliation, penalties, lost opportunities, and other forms of retribution are more common than in Kintsugi. Toughness is valued more than reaching out and lifting up. Those from favored backgrounds get second chances while those who face biased stereotypes do not.

How might we as a society increase our capacity for Kintsugi and faith in the ultimate goodness of those who have struggled in life?

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 “Kintsugi is based on the belief that something broken is stronger and more beautiful because of its imperfections, the history attached to it, and its altered state.” – JoAnn V Glim

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