Why does the craftsman inspire us?

Why does the craftsman inspire us?

For many, work is simply the means to an end. That end can be many things, but it is usually thought of in terms of money and what it can achieve: tranquility, freedom, luxuries, status, power. At first that does not seem to be wrong, but it is such a common view that it obscures the possibility of seeing work differently, for example, how craftsmen have seen it. Throughout history they have shown us that there is a relationship with work that can return it to the center of our life.  Watching them work we can imagine that the rest of us have the possibility of finding meaning in two different dimensions. On the one hand, connecting with an activity that we are learning and even mastering, gives us a connection with the world that is difficult to find in another space, and can give us a sense of deep meaning, which we feel in the body and in the soul. That is what artisans and craftsmen tell us, what Richard Sennet tells us about in his book The Craftsman, and what many of us get glimpses of when we are completely focused on certain activities we enjoy. But there is another way we can find meaning in work. When we work, we can give others something that they value, and we can find meaning in feeling as part of a community. Thus, the craftsman invites us to see work as an end in itself, in which we all have the ability to improve day by day, finding and developing passions, and feeling connected with the social world and the natural world. Obviously, there are contexts in which building this relationship is more difficult, but is there one in which the possibility is closed? 

And what does the entrepreneur have to do with all this? How does he relate to his work? Those who launch new businesses today are usually heard talking about changing the world with their innovations, although below the surface what most seem to be really reaching for is the mythical billion dollars. We can put aside questions about whether those ambitions are good or bad, or how likely we are to achieve them (not very), and rather focus on asking ourselves whether the life that derives from that accelerated pursuit of fortune is desirable. 

We often enter the market looking for opportunities, thinking who may want to buy something that we may be able to offer. The professional careers of those who graduate college are often thought of in that same logic, being guided by what kinds of jobs offer the biggest economic opportunities. Many first look at the environment and try to foresee the future, and then decide what courses to take, which sector of the economy to try to enter, which city to live in and even with whom to relate. In other words, life is lived in search of economic opportunity. On the other side, and it is not hard to see why, we find people frustrated and worn down by their work. Seems obvious since they do not do what they are passionate about. And for those who have capital to invest or who run companies, and who see thousands of young professionals being driven by these transactional motivations, it is not difficult to see them as interchangeable pieces, which only look after themselves. And so, the culture gets cemented, each of us on our own, trying to maximize our own benefit. And for those who enter that hamster wheel there seems to be no escape. The craftsman at some point saw the hamster cage and decided to get out of it. Some lucky ones never entered. It is not true that the cage is the only way, or that it is human nature. You can go through life learning, discovering, developing skills -- skills that are justified by the simple fact of how they make us feel. Like, for example, the ability to imagine what others or oneself feel, and to be able to express it in one of the thousands of ways that humans have invented to express ourselves, namely the arts. Or the ability to take wood, iron, glass, and create beautiful, quality objects that serve us to live the modern lives we live.  There are many skills that we can develop that can awaken passion. And it is false that exploring the world in such a way and trying to live off it is impossible. On the contrary, most of us find enormous value in those things that we see that the other is passionate about, and that he does them with dedication and care. Of course, those that live this way also need to go to the marketplace an offer their works, and need to adapt, make concessions and changes; they do not simply get lost in an infinite space of self-expression. But, still, isn’t there a better life being portrayed? Better for the those that produce and for those that consume? Since most of us are both, it is even more important to consider it. 

The whole point is to consider a worthwhile way to create the companies that will shape our future world. Is it clear that going slower, finding what we are passionate about and wondering the implications of what we do, necessarily leads to a life of economic failure? Isn't it possible to have prosperity and authenticity? Maybe slower we can reach farther? The entrepreneur may see the craftsman and ask him what he proposes. And he might say that it is possible to find pride and meaning in what we do, that if we connect with our craft with our whole body, we can redevelop that capacity and commitment to produce quality objects. He really does not know if it can be achieved in a large-scale enterprise, but that is not his interest; that is our problem.


Author Diego Oteyza
Explorer at Normalem
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash


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