Collectively speaking, how a culture views and responds to brokenness, setbacks, and pain says something about the character of that culture. At least in my experience, trying to locate and separate this thread for purposes of comparison can be a vivid and instructive experience. One practice in particular, “kintsugi” (きんつぎ) or “kintsukuroi” (きんつくろい), literally translating to “golden joinery” and “golden repair,” respectively, is the practice of repairing broken pottery with a gold-infused lacquer. While the philosophy behind this practice is much older, the common understanding is that the practice of kintsugi dates roughly to the 15th century CE, when a Japanese ruler sent his beloved broken tea bowl to China for repair and had it returned stapled together in a way he found quite ugly. He tasked Japanese artists/craftsmen with finding a better way to repair valuable pottery, and kintsugi was born.
Underlying this practice is the assertion that the piece’s damage, its brokenness, is not something to be hidden; instead, its brokenness adds to its beauty. Relating somewhat to wabi-sabi (侘寂), there is an acceptance of the imperfect and ephemeral in kintsugi. There is not quite a parallel philosophy in the Western tradition, where more attention is paid to those things that transcend the immediate rather than dwelling on what is momentary. From the Western European tradition comes more of an interest in the manner of beauty that comes from symmetry, from a kind of perfection, as opposed to that which comes from imperfection. The European aesthetic, at least in some senses and especially in discussing post-Christianization Europe, there seems to be more of an interest in aesthetics of the absolute. This tendency is countered by the Japanese (and Zen) interest in the ephemeral, the fleeting, and what beauty it contains.
And when we push the idea of kintsugi past its literal practice and work to break open its philosophy a bit more, applying it not to lacquer and ceramic, but to people, something interesting emerges: not an abhorrence of scarring, weakness, or wound, but a whole-hearted acceptance of these things in the realization that life is so brief, and that to live and thrive despite hardship seems in some ways to be intrinsically beautiful. It is precisely the brokenness and transience of a thing that makes it beautiful.
Applied to people, this philosophy is life-affirming and all the more intense. Our broken things–our relationships, our pasts, our very selves–once mended through understanding and acceptance are all the more beautiful. This is not to say we should not strive to do better and be better, but that our imperfections and scars are things to be accepted and celebrated–these things are evidence of living.
Nerdwriter (who, if you’re not familiar, you should certainly know), built a fantastic video-essay on the concept. Certainly worth a watch.