Sunday, January 01, 2012

moral character and community...

Happy New Year! For the first day of the year 2012, I will continue the notion of our becoming a culture of craftsmen.

Tim Holton had pointed out in a comment a few days ago, that back when things were mostly made by craftsmen in our communities there was greater incentive to make things well. A craftsman would not put his signature on work that he knew would give him a bad name in his or her community where he hoped to live and work the rest of his life. He would care about his name within his community and care deeply what others thought of him.

Now, we have lost much of that strength as we have exported production and made cities places in which most are anonymous and our goods are made and distributed by companies that come and go and have no care in being there for us in the long term. Even major purchases like washers and dryers are made fast and far away to last only a short time.

One of the inevitable consequences of living within a modern culture is that if a person wants to get noticed in that larger culture, his or her work, whether it is in music or craft must attain what can be called signature qualities... In music it can be the unusual unexpected movement of notes as written by Stephen Sondheim, or unique qualities of voice like those of Bob Dylan. In craft it can be some unique signature effects that identify the work as being from a particular individual. The consequence is a culture in which artisans in music or craft seek the objective of being different rather than the simple objective of offering good, useful, lasting work. And so, you can see that the signature of a craftsman's work has changed from being goo, lasting and useful to being contrived to clamor for attention in a broad market.

In light of that and in relation to yesterday's post, I want to once again turn attention to the development of will, for it is the exercise of will to serve that provides the foundation of community, and offers our best hope for a broad restoration of craftsmanship as an American value.

In Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, printed in 1902, he refers to Felix Adler's discussion of creating strong and useful will. You will remember from yesterday's post that psychologists see great value in making very small manageable changes as a means to enhance the powers of will to control even greater factors in our lives. Larsson states:
"I like to dwell upon the moral influence of the work(manual training or Sloyd) which is so effectively emphasized by Dr. Adler, because I believe that without definite and adequate provision for the moral growth of children in elementary schools the higher educational institutions can hardly reach the desired standard."The moral effect of manual training is often apparent in the child's behavior and in his respect for his skillful schoolmates. Some teachers have observed that more accurate thinking and improved methods of study, especially in arithmetic, have resulted from manual training. It gives a child independent standards. He loves good work, likes to be useful, prefers occupation to idleness; and thus the germs of good citizenship are planted at the time most favorable to growth and development. A healthy impetus is also given to the moral nature by the improved physical condition resulting from this training. A freer circulation promotes health, increases happiness, and opens a way to the best impulses of the heart. The youthful energy, which is often too much confined to the exercise of the brain alone, finds, by the use of tools, a natural outlet in the bodily powers.
As we may walk through cities and see decline in character of our people, and deficiencies in care in the sustenance of community spirit, we can see that our failure has been one of failing to offer children the opportunity to:

Make, fix and create...

There is a great story this morning on NPR in support of the issue. Artisanal And Authentic, The Flavors Of The New Year


  1. Doug

    Looking forward to listening to the NPR piece. Here's something apropos for you from Wallace Nutting (Furniture of the Pilgrim Century, 1921):
    "We have no right to misuse wood. We did not make it. We found it, like air, water and grass. The only possible manner of acquiring any rights over it is by putting the stamp of character upon it. The theologians tell us of sins, as if we were under obligation to a spiritual world alone. But sheer wickedness in the use of materials ought to cause even a materialist to shudder. Wood is one of the best things we have. Whether Grinling Gibbons puts his tool to it or we make a milking stool of it, men will measure us by the manner of our handling it.
    Only people with a sense of reverence for materials can make good citizens. A man must use wood well, or he will mistreat his neighbors."
    Happy New Year!

  2. Anonymous10:16 AM

    In todays world most will pay little attention to Mr Larsson words and ideas. It's all about how little for how much. We have a very long way to go, but some of us are using individual action to get the ball rolling in the direction we give to our young.

    We are paying quite a price for the sins we have made in pursuit of a world of comfort and the tech/money chase.

    We need to keep on keeping on for the world our children will inhabit where most have no skills whatsoever. When I work with children I see the gleam in their eyes when they realize that the hands make the brain work so much better versus the sitting on ones brains.