May 18, 2008

Create the Whole

A friend of mine pointed out that in centuries past the best and brightest of our society were people who made things. They were creators. The drive to construct is part of our human nature, and our modern lifestyles rarely allow us to fulfil that need.

Before the rise of modern cities the most intellectually capable of our society were people who used their hands to create. Masons, painters, wood carvers, builders, etc. The pinnacle of a culture's achievements were artistic, aesthetic and visual.

Great pyramids in Egypt, Fabergé eggs in Russia, buttressed churches in France or divine murals in Italy. That's just a sample. Fine china, antique furniture and Ming vases were all just examples of our social respect for the talent of creativity. On more mundane levels the daily lives of people centred around building a home, growing gardens and constructing communities.

The very essence of working is the satisfaction of completing and creating. Blacksmiths who forge metal tools from lumps of rock are men who feel a sense of achievement, while their wives are women who turn a house into a home - nesting behaviour is not a trivial matter, it's about creating a world within four walls that is greater than what was. Working the land, working with your hands or raising a family is all about creating something from your life.

This is what is missing when we design our modern lifestyle. We focus on the financial, on the material and the analytical, and we place very little value on creating and construction.

Our brightest and best tend to fall into careers that extract from our society instead of contributing to it. Lawyers and brokers head the pack, careers that filter and deconstruct in order to make money for a few. Doctors and scientists do a little better but are out numbered and distracted. Many of our most talented are sidelined with cosmetic achievements, sometimes literally.

What this means for our society is simple, we are putting our most talented minds to poor use. What this means for us as individuals is more challenging, as many of us fall victim to the false idols of a modern lifestyle. Pursuing employment to pay the rent, to buy a car and pass our time is not a satisfying existence.

Lawrence Daws describes his artistic pursuit of painting in terms of being whole. Having finished a work of art, an expression of emotion and a unique record of his experiences committed to canvas, he can sit quietly with a painting and feel a sense of being complete.

Only in that moment of having finished a work of construction do we feel the most whole. We are fulfilled with achievement, expression and purpose. Working for the self, exploring artistic goals or determining one's own career path is more than just a bid for freedom, it's a step closer to being oneself.

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