We often think of broken items as imperfect, damaged or less desirable. The Japanese concept of kintsukuroi (“to repair with gold”) challenges this notion.
Legend has it that once upon a time, a Japanese emperor sent a broken teabowl back to China to be fixed. To the emperor’s dismay, when the teabowl was returned, it had metal staples to grip the broken parts together. Japanese artisans then thought of a more aesthetic way to restore the broken teabowl by using gold. The result was a teabowl that was even more charming than the original; the art of kintsukuroi was born.
I vividly remember the moment I was introduced to the concept of kintsukuroi, that being broken is not necessarily a bad thing. As an author and speaker, I meet all kinds of people. One day, I was introduced to a support group for doctors, a shoulder to lean on, providing much needed assistance to doctors who were on the brink of losing their balance due to their extremely stressful working environment. True to form, the doctors who were given support did return to work as competent as ever. In all likelihood, the painful experiences made these doctors even more compassionate than they might ever have been without them.
What does this mean for you and I?
We all have had painful experiences. I remember the moment when I was trying to get a publisher for my first book, Cool Mum Super Dad. I had no idea how the publishing world worked. I was in a new city, uncertain if I would ever be published, sitting in a dark corner of my bedroom after being told by a publisher that he wasn’t interested in my book. At that time, I did not know that rejection was normal. “If you want me to publish your book, you’ll have to change your writing style completely,” he said. I wondered, Is this my future?
Even if you had never experienced something excruciatingly painful, you’d have gone through some kind of pain, the extent of which differs from person to person. Think of the betrayal, rejection or failure like a wound that leaves a scar. But rather than you becoming a lesser person, the existence of the scar is testimony of the growth, of who you have become because of the pain. You do have the choice to not become bitter, especially if the pain that you experienced is none of your fault. You do have the choice to let it turn you into a more beautiful, resilient person.
How do you apply the concept of kintsukuroi in your life?
First, if your pain is none of your fault, if you’re filled with hate towards someone or something that caused you the pain, let go. The best advice I read about hate is this: Hate hurts the hater more than the hated. I’m not asking you to forgive or forget, you might not be ready for that. Just let go.
Second, being broken is a feeling. It does not reduce who you are as a person.
Third, realise that it’s alright for a heart to be wounded and to heal. At the very least, you’ll be more able to empathise, be less judgemental of another human being who’s weathering difficult times. That’s a gift in itself. As a wise man said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Extraordinary leaders survived and thrived because at some subconscious level, they understand that painful experiences have the capacity to make you a stronger person. You are more capable than you think.
If you know of someone who’s having a difficult time, and you’ve been waffling whether you should reach out to help him or her, I hope the idea of kintsukuroi would prompt you to help that person, now that you know that brokenness could be a sign of good things to come. The world would be a happier place if every one of us is less selfish and ask ourselves, what little things we could do for another person.
At some level, we are all afraid of pain, rejection and failure. This fear alone is enough to stop us from challenging ourselves to reach for whatever we want in life. But as the concept of kintsukuroi shows us, there is beauty in being broken. Like the emperor’s broken teabowl, the shattered pieces of the original you, when lovingly and artfully put together, could become a stunning creation. Being broken has the possibility to expand your capacity as a human being to blossom into a more successful, pleasing person than the original, unbroken you.