By: Christopher G. Fox, PhD
It’s funny how something unexpected can happen to transform dimly half-formed background thinking into concrete and specific insight that brings about change.
For quite some time now, I have been coming back to the concept of “repair.” Regular readers of Two Drops of Ink with good memories may remember that it showed up in my November column on heart values, where I envisioned repair as a way to manifest my inner heart value of kindness.
But I never quite defined it. I wasn’t ready. In hindsight, many other of my writing colleagues write about repair, in their own terms. Just to name a few, I’m thinking of:
- Marilyn Davis, “Writing: Are You Generous or Miserly“
- Frank McKinley, “How Writing Helped Me Deal With Grief“
- Tracy Kenworth, “Making the Day Count“
- Shahnaz Radjy, “What My Dog and Goats Taught Me about Being a Writer“
So, what do I mean by “repair” in writing? I’ll get to that serendipitous moment shortly. Repair simply means healing something broken in the world. It can start with a brokenness in our own hearts – how often we hear about ways that writers use their writing practice to recover from painful occurrences and situations.
But it also means helping people overcome their pain, delivering solace or inspiration to one’s readers.
The Art of Kintsugi: Fixing Cracks
As writers, we repair the cracks we find in the world using the beauty of language, the quality of clear thinking, and the empathy of loving-kindness towards our subjects and our readers.
I’m reminded of the Japanese art of kintsugi, using gold or silver to fix broken pottery. The seam remains, repaired with precious metal.
I love the philosophy of kintsugi.
“The practice is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect. The repair method was also born from the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is wasted, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change,” as Kelly Richman-Abdou explains it in My Modern Met.
A Moment with Fred Rogers
The moment, the golden seam that fused all these fragmented thoughts was recently watching the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It explores the ideas and legacy of Fred Rogers and his enduring “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
The documentary is moving from start to finish. It’s a beautiful film, and I highly recommend it. But the galvanizing moment came from footage where Fred Rogers mentioned the concept of “tikkun olam.” It literally means “repair of the world” in Hebrew.
Fred Rogers came out of retirement after September 11, 2001, to address the pain and confusion of that moment in American history. In his address, he said, “No matter what our particular job, especially in our world today, we all are called to be Tikkun Olam—repairers of creation. Thank you for whatever you do, wherever you are, to bring joy, and light, and hope, and faith, and pardon and love to your neighborhood and to yourself.”
That moment and that quote was a seam of gold meant to help repair the broken heart of a nation. Hearing it some 18 years later, it also helped me see with clarity how all these loose thoughts in my head come together in the idea of writing to repair the world.
Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World
Tikkun olam has a complex history with many strands to it among the various threads of Jewish thought. Today, it is used by many to refer to efforts made towards social justice, taking responsibility for fixing what is wrong with the world.
According to more mystical strains of Judaism, such as the work of the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria, “The ‘repair’ that is needed […] is two-fold: the gathering of light and souls, to be achieved by human beings through the contemplative performance of religious acts. The goal of such repair, which can only be effected by humans, is to separate what is holy from the created world.”
This idea comes from a deep context of religious thinking that is outside my own knowledge or experience in faith, but nonetheless, I find in it a rich metaphor of what we are here to do as writers in this world, gathering light as an instrument of repair.
When we look consciously at our own practice of writing as an act of repair, we unlock a unique sense of purpose. By asking, “what am I trying to repair with this writing, and how will my writing provide that repair,” we make fundamental changes to what emerges and what our writing accomplishes.
Christopher G. Fox, Ph. D. is a writer and communications strategist living in Los Angeles. He works with executives and subject matter experts to help them build reputations through messages, conversations, stories, and thought leadership.
His website,Syncresis®is a consultancy focused on thought leadership, patient communication, and content strategy. Its unique virtual operating model means that teams are purpose-built to the needs of a specific client and project.
He is also the creator of Kindness Communication®, which promotes the idea that the worlds we move in can be better places if we make kindness the core of how we operate.
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