Woodworking: a transformative moment

Today I found these two TED-Talks. I like to watch these short lectures, because people tell about simple things that changed their lives.

The first one is by guitar maker Jim Fleeting;

The feeling of epiphany when working on the first guitar is very familiar to me. It immediately felt right, like everything suddenly made sense. All things I had done before fell into place like the pieces of a puzzle, while outlines of the big picture appeared.

The other one is by E.J. Osborne

You might perceive this as some millenial-hipster-woodworking-extentialist-bullshit; “Ah, cute, the girl has nothing better to do than carving spoons… Put on a lumberjack shirt and call yourself a maker while drinking a macchiato” Was the reaction of a friend of mine. But what he missed was the whole point of her talk. That it isn’t about the spoon itself, but the process. How people discover something about themselves, that they have HANDS and are able to USE them. Quite a revelation for people who grew up with the notion that they should use their heads instead of their hands.

Both talks are wonderful examples of the fact that our culture has somehow lost or devalued manual capabilities in favor of intellectual work. But as I have said so many times before, one can’t do without the other. We have split them up into two different fields. The ‘brains’ and the ‘work force’. The first is supposed to think and design, occupy offices and not get their hands or ties dirty. The others are supposed to do the opposite; get their hands dirty, execute orders from the ‘brains’ and not think more than absolutely .

But this system has given a lot of problems, especially when something doesn’t work, both parties point to the others to blame. This is something almost completely unknown to the craftsmen or -women who design and make something themselves. There is no question of responsibility, because they control all. The work becomes a symbiotic process between the two fields; the mind controls the hands while the hands and eyes give new information to the mind. A constant and very efficient feedback loop, without whole inboxes full of memos.

Our society is educating children out of natural impulses of craftsmanship. This way we are hollowing out our culture. Dutch comedian Pieter Derks said in one of his radio-columns that “we have millions of communications advisors, but no one who can repair a faucet”. The results of this disdain for manual work are already visible. And in the near future they will only grow worse. Especially with the baby-boom generation now retiring. A lot of knowledge goes along with them.

We even see it in politics, people listen to what a politician promisses, bit don’t look at what they do or have done in the past.  And they love the far fetched ideas, but never give it a thought about the practical implementation or wether they are possible at all. Making another country pay for your campain promisses sounds great, but nobody seems to ask “HOW?”.

The irony is that the idea of a knowledge based economy will lead to a great loss of knowledge in the long run. Practically a dumbing down of society.

It’s the question whether we can change this tendency. And not by the hipster-style   caricature of overpriced and hyped stuff. But by a true re-evaluation of our priorities and values. It is possible, I have seen a lot of people who were stuck in the demands of the current society getting alive again when they started working with their hands. Instead of wasting energy and letting off steam in the gym, use this energy to make something tangible. Making furniture, instruments, knives, swords, utensils, clothes, etc. For some it will be a great hobby, for others the long lost career…

But it starts with us, by having the courage to follow our real passions. But even more by letting children choose for themselves. By not talking them out of their creativity and giving them a chance to combine head and hands if they like. This might give us a true knowledge based future.

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