Sometimes we need to break to make us stronger

Our resident psychologist ponders how to thrive in this high-pressure life.

Dr Nick Baylis: "What skills have your unique collection of adversities left you adept at?"
Dr Nick Baylis: "What skills have your unique collection of adversities left you adept at?"

The word ‘kintsukuroi’ means ‘golden repair’. It is the Japanese craft of repairing broken pottery with such precious metal and consummate skill that it renders the objet d’art far more beautiful than before it was damaged.

Porcelain mended this way will bear its lines of golden scars like the glinting arteries of forked lightning. They seem to bind the whole together with an invigorating energy.

Likewise, an individual’s life course can be positively transformed by a skilled healing process or some instinctive compensation for a harm done or deficit endured.

A close study of the particular ilk of people who appear to have thrived in the face of  uncommon adversity can often reveal how those individuals have thrived precisely because of their hardships, whereby the problems have clearly served to awaken or strengthen abilities that might otherwise have rested dormant or unexercised.

Take the story of a young child who withdrew from family life because of the terrifying presence of a violently alcoholic father. The youngster sought consolation in the companionship of horses, and this healthily natural reaction helped develop the acumen that would eventually earn him love, fortune and the title of ‘horse whisperer’.

That same Monty Roberts, now almost 80, attributes much of his success as a rider, trainer and 60 years a family man to acquiring the skill of gentleness towards other hurt creatures (human and equine) that his own bullied childhood taught him.

It has been widely observed that the sort of child and teenage prodigies who blossom before the age of 21 almost always come from deeply supportive family environments, while men and women whose professional aptitudes emerge only once they reach adult life have often struggled through childhoods unusually blighted in some way.  

For instance, a third of leading entrepreneurs have some practical experience in common that far exceeds the number who have a top business school MBA. Serious dyslexia is their unseen common denominator.

One explanation for this supposes that difficulty with reading can acclimatise a youngster to setbacks and humiliations, while also prompting them to derive satisfaction from skills away from the classroom.  Jamie Oliver is just such an example.

Perhaps as many as half of successful entrepreneurs were said by their schools to have ‘learning impediments’ (dyslexia or otherwise).

By the same natural dynamics, it is no accident that A-list actresses Emily Blunt and Julia Roberts have both struggled with stammering speech, as has the notable wordsmith Rowan Atkinson.

It seems clear that the alchemy of intense pressure can create diamonds from the carbon that would otherwise remain as coal.

The educational consultant Sir Ken Robinson explained in 2006 how the British education system is too focused on teaching the sedentary academic skills of critical thinking via reading and essay writing, the skills whose apotheosis is embodied in the solitary university professor.

He says this is a tragic waste of youth, as real life has always required and rewarded an infinitely more colourful set of worldly skills that are alien to the school exam curriculum, including the practical creativity and innovative problem-solving often conducted in partnerships, teams and families.

So, as winter retreats before a rousing cavalry of spring flowers, you could wonder how the principle of kintsukuroi might apply to you and your loved ones. What rich seams of skill have your unique collection of adversities left you wonderfully adept at doing? What activities, as yet unexplored, might take good advantage of those hard-earned strengths?

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