Friday, November 16, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 62



Cherishing the imperfect has rewards

Pete Sullivan

When British writer John Ruskin wrote the line "To banish imperfection is to destroy expression" in the 1850s, he was referring to the degradation of workers and their crafts in the emerging industrial system.

At that time, uniform perfection in consumer goods became the ideal and so the individual expression of workers and craftsmen declined. Where
some saw an efficient, productive system, Ruskin saw one without a soul where workers were automatons and their products bland and

Ruskin's critique is still relevant today. In the United States, all but the poor are able to obtain a vast number of flawless products. When we buy
material items, we know exactly what to expect and will not accept anything less. 

Of course, it's good to know your car will start and your food won't be rotten. But when we accept nothing but perfection in our lives and for our
possessions, we become as predictable as those in Ruskin's world.

To counter this predictability, and the materialism at the root of it, a new, appropriately grassroots movement is taking shape. At its heart is
simplicity the idea that we live better when we limit our consumption and instead devote more time to developing our intellects and artistry.
This simplicity movement is manifested primarily in publications, Internet salons, and personal lifestyle changes.

To many, the ideals of simplicity sound lofty but are out of reach. It is admittedly difficult to take such a radical departure from American culture.
But it is in fact possible to find a degree of simplicity. One way that is increasingly cited is a modern interpretation of wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi has its foundations in 15th-century Japan. It arose as a rejection of the refined hedonism of the imperial court. Instead of valuing
wealth and power, the idea is to treasure the simple tasks and things that connect us with other humans and the earth.

Your life probably seems far removed from that of 15th-century Japan, but according to Robyn Lawrence, editor of Natural Home, there are
many little things you can do to make your life more natural through wabi-sabi. For example, instead of shopping for new clothes, you can
cherish the old things in your closet or buy pre-owned clothes. Although they may not be quite as flashy, they are more genuine and in their
history lies intangible beauty.

Wabi-sabi can be incorporated into our lifestyles in more profound ways. We may consciously choose not to wear ourselves out in the
never-ending rat race for wealth. Instead, we can take a step back, accept less money and prestige, while giving more time to the things that
make our lives worthwhile on a personal level.

Wabi-sabi is about celebrating the beauty in what is flawed and recognizing that nothing is permanent; nothing is perfect. In doing so, we
accept the transience of earthly objects and take pleasure in simple things that bear the mark of that transience.

This type of thinking may seem odd at first in a materialistic age where perfection is overvalued. But, as Ruskin noted, when we cherish the
imperfect, our lives and our world become more genuine.

Sullivan, a senior history major
may be reached at

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