Jim McClellan: Broken Places

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Jim McClellan turns to an ancient Japanese art for hope that a broken country can be repaired, and better for it.

It’s no secret that one of the things holding America together is a phenomenon that seems to suggest the opposite: regularly breaking apart. We’re taught to push boundaries, and our history is a long trail of breakage, healing, and new opportunities made possible by the process.

Hemingway famously said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I think that can be true for countries as well.

I lived in Japan for several years, and that’s where I first learned about “kintsugi,” which is the art of fixing broken pottery with a highly visible lacquer, often gold or silver. With kintsugi, the break stands out more after it is fixed, not less. The lines of repair are there for everyone to see, adding new contours, textures, and colors to the piece. It’s as if the item has a new set of golden veins that restore its youth and luster.

The point with kintsugi is not to conceal flaws, but rather to expose and even celebrate them for the natural part of life they are. The repair becomes not just a fix but the very thing itself, adding a unique element of beauty while endowing the object with new strength and durability.


At this volatile moment in our country, when boundaries seem to be breaking daily, it may be helpful to reflect on how many golden veins of repair we have in our foundation. They reveal what might have been broken in the past, but what is now the alloyed bedrock of our world. We’re better because of those breaks.

We are, of course, all flawed and imperfect, but those imperfections can be markers on the path to a better place. I’d like to think that the Japanese notion of kintsugi might in some way reflect the gold of American dreams. Like most other countries, we, too, can break, but by exposing those broken places and letting the world see how we’ve incorporated them, we can still symbolize the power of human will, and the uniquely American strength we all share.

With a Perspective, I’m Jim McClellan.

Jim McClellan is co-founder of a logistics software company focused on the wine industry. He lives in Marin.