In the 15th century a Japanese shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke a favorite tea bowl and sent it back to China to be fixed. But the repair job, which was done with metal staples – being the standard for repair at that time – detracted from the beauty of the bowl. Disappointed, the shogun enlisted a Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing solution, and kintsugi was born.
Kintsugi is the general concept of highlighting or emphasizing imperfections, visualizing mends and seams with gold as additive to an area to celebrate rather than hide the cracks or missing pieces. Rather than disguising the breakage, kintsugi restores the broken item incorporating the damage into the aesthetic of the restored item, making it part of the object’s history. Kintsugi uses lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, platinum, copper or bronze, resulting into something more beautiful than the original.
As a philosophy, kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.
Despite being a highly visual technique, kintsugi draws attention to the life, rather than the look of a pot. Think of it: you imagine, then craft a gorgeous pot, and it leaves your hands and begins a life with other people, in a different place, and is used by a family, perhaps generations of that family, or is gifted to a loved one, taken overseas, or left alone for years in a cupboard before being brought out, dusted off, and adored as a ‘family’ piece, the facts of its history totally forgotten. Then a small child makes a grab for it and it’s a gonner, smashed to pieces on the floor. To throw the pot away is to destroy its unique story. To repair it the kintsugi way is to continue its tale of adventure and triumph.
The best litigators have been broken and put back together again. Repeatedly. About 30 years ago, right out of law school, I went into the public defender’s office. As a public defender, I was in court every day. In fact, I was placed in a rural office and did everything from mental health commitments, traffic cases and even homicides. The first case I walked into was co-chairing a homicide. Day in and day out I participated in jury selection, openings and closings, making objections, arguing motions, and developing theories of the case in a way completely different than shown in the books of law school. Clients did not care what my grades were in school. They wanted to know what I was going to do about their case when there was a confession, 3 eyewitnesses (a priest, a minister and a nun) and fingerprints with a videotape. And I got the case in the morning for an afternoon trial.
To be effective in the midst of such chaos requires enormous levels of personal and professional confidence. And don’t confuse confidence with false certainty or hubris. No decision can be certain and no lawyer is always right. But the most effective litigators learn by instinct to translate mountains of structured and unstructured information into clear and decisive action, often in the heat of a trial. You learn to make a decision and move on. Good litigators have made mistakes but put themselves together to triumph. Mistakes are key in the life of a litigator by allowing the mistake to not end our service but enhance it. I learned that making a mistake did not make me a bad lawyer. Failing to admit and learn from a mistake is what would make me a bad lawyer.