America is divided. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you can’t deny that American society is fractured, broken into pieces.
Like many, I feel that as a nation, we need to unite. We need to heal. We need to pick up the shards of our broken society, and put them back together.
Some say that in the healing process we should bury the ugliness, hide the hatred and fear, that we should seal it underground. I can’t help but think that this would be a mistake.
We shouldn’t try to cover up the imperfections, to pretend they don’t exist. We need to fight racism, classism, sexism, xenophobia, and other societal sins. We can’t just bury them and wish them away — they don’t go away on their own. Left alone they fester and grow like a cancer.
Unifying America will take a lot of education and work. To do that we need to make sure the ugliness and the scars are visible, lest we lull ourselves again into a false sense of having evolved further than we actually have. We need a constant reminder of just how broken we have become — or maybe always were. We need to see our scars.
Kintsugi is a Japanese art form of repairing broken pottery using powdered gold and lacquer to highlight the repairs. Rather than try to hide the scars of the fused pieces, they are made prominent.
I first learned about Kintsugi Saturday morning after watching the news of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris winning the election. With a sense of relief I hadn’t felt in years, I turned my attention to finish a novel by one of my favorite authors of fiction — Breach, by Eliot Peper.
In the final pages of this futurist techno-thriller, Peper’s heroine Emily is searching for a way to repair the pieces of her shattered life. Peper beautifully uses the metaphor of kintsugi to highlight Emily’s need to find a new perspective in life.
As she and a loved one, Rosa, admire a kintsugi, Rosa explains to Emily, “Instead of trying to cover up the damage, the repair is illuminated, the imperfections transformed into a source of beauty. I’ve always seen kintsugi as a physical manifestation … that everything, all of us, are fragile and transient, that change is the only constant, that we are, at our best, lovingly reconstructed patchworks of our shattered selves.”
In the fresh light of what is hopefully the dawn of a new era of healing in American society, it strikes me that perhaps kintsugi is also an apt metaphor for how we as an American society might approach the daunting challenge of healing and repairing our shattered society.
The recent election cycle has been characterized as a fight for the soul of America. Recent years have exposed America’s soul, including its ugly demons. We aren’t whole and unified. We’re a patchwork of shards that need to be mended together and unified. There are deep, serious, ugly, systemic problems and wounds in American society.
We need to make serious repairs. Let’s not just superficially glue the shards together and slap some paint over things and pretend we’re better than we are.
Maybe, as with kintsugi, we need to highlight those repairs, make them prominent, so that they serve as a constant reminder of the never-ending work we need to do to grow and improve as a society.