Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Craftsmanship and Living

The First Dragon Rider had another great post. He found an article on craftsmanship and our daily lives. The references Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soul Craft and Robert Greene's Mastery, which we've discussed before here and here, respectively. An excerpt is below. The original article may be read here. It's well worth it.

Measure Twice, Cut Once: Applying the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Everyday Lives

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 3, 2013 · 28 comments
Across cultures and time, the archetype of the craftsman has represented man’s ability to create and has been the mark of mature manhood. He is homo faber – man the creator. Instead of passively consuming and letting things happen to him, the craftsman fashions the world to his liking and proactively shapes and influences it. Ancient philosophers in both the West and the East have used the craftsman as a symbol of he who contributes to his community and as an ensign of humility, self-reliance, and calm industry.

When we think of the archetypal craftsman, images of a bearded man clad in a leather apron and rolled-up sleeves, toiling away in his workshop producing beautiful and useful items comes to mind. What’s interesting is that the ancient Greeks had a much more inclusive idea of the craftsman than our modern conception. Besides masons, potters, and carpenters, the ancient Greeks included jobs now considered “knowledge professions” like doctors, legislators, and administrators under the craftsman label. Even the work of a father was considered a craft of sorts that required the same care and attention to detail as that of the carpenter. Indeed, the ancient Greeks believed that the values and ethos of craftsmanship were things all should seek to live by. In so doing, a man could achieve arete, or excellence, and thus experience eudaimonia, or a flourishing life.

Over time, the ideal of craftsmanship was cordoned off to just the technical arts. Physicians and legislators no longer thought of themselves as craftsmen, but as philosophers and natural scientists who were more concerned with the theoretical as opposed to the practical. Such a shift is a shame, for the principles of craftsmanship truly do apply to every man, whether he makes furniture or crunches numbers. Below we take a look at how these overarching principles of the traditional craftsman can apply to all areas of your life, no matter your profession.

Many of these principles are things we’ve covered before on the Art of Manliness. Make sure to explore the links within this article to more fully understand the concepts held within.

Do Things Well for the Sake of Doing Them Well

Make every product better than it’s ever been done before. Make the parts you cannot see as well as the parts you can see. Use only the best materials, even for the most everyday items. Give the same attention to the smallest detail as you do to the largest. Design every item you make to last forever.” – Shaker Philosophy of Furniture Making
Fundamental to the code of craftsmanship is the desire to do something well for its own sake. Sure, the craftsman often gets paid for his work, but it’s not the paycheck that determines how well he does the job. A true craftsman will work until the job is done and done well, even if he’s working for free. Philosopher and motorcycle repairman Matthew B. Crawford shared a story in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft that exemplifies the craftsman’s compulsive fidelity to this ethic.

A guy had brought an old Magna motorcycle into Crawford’s shop that needed work on the clutch. Crawford could solve the clutch problem just fine, but he also noticed that the engine’s oil seal looked “buggered.” He tried to fix it but didn’t make any headway. Due to the damage and the nature of the oil seal, replacing it would require a lot of work and a lot of time. Frustrated, he left his shop for a smoke. While the smoke filled his lungs, the thought came to him that:
“The best business decision would be to forget I’d ever seen the ambiguously buggered oil seal. With a freshly rebuilt slave cylinder, the clutch worked fine. Even if my idle speculation about the weeping oil seal causing the failure of the slave cylinder seal was right, so what? It would take quite a while for the problem to reappear, and who knows if this guy would still own the bike by then. If it is not likely to be his problem, I shouldn’t make it my problem.”
But as he walked back into the shop, he couldn’t stop thinking about that buggered oil seal:
“The compulsion was setting in, and I did little to resist it. I started digging at the seal, my peripheral vision narrowing. At first I told myself it was exploratory digging. But the seal was suffering from my screwdriver, and at some point I had to drop the forensic pretense. I was going to get that little f***er out.”
Crawford goes on to explain how he’d often bill his clients fewer hours than he actually worked on a bike because of his thoroughness or just his plain curiosity of tinkering with things:
“I feel I have to meet the standards of efficiency that [an independent mechanic] set, or at least appear to. So I lie and tell people a job took ten hours when it might have taken twenty. To compensate, I also tell them my shop rate is forty dollars per hour, but it usually works out to more like twenty. I feel like an amateur, no less now than when I started, but through such devices I hope to appear like somebody who knows what he is doing, and bills accordingly.”
Money wasn’t important to Crawford, just doing the job well for the sake of doing it well was what mattered.

You can apply this craftsmanship ethic to more than just tangible objects. Even if you do more ethereal work, you can do it well for the sake of doing it well. The reward for doing an exhaustively thorough job can sometimes be monetary, but it may very well go unnoticed by one’s customer or boss. The most fulfilling reward of living by the craftsmanship ethic is the feeling of pride that comes with knowing you gave a certain job your damndest effort. It’s the unmatchable satisfaction of seeing one’s inner integrity displayed in the wholeness and quality of one’s external labor.


walt said...

That artofmanliness website is pretty interesting. I am so inundated with the Personality-based culture we live in that the site's Character-based prescriptions seem a little ... hokey, or old-fashioned. Sort of.

Heh. Or, alternatively: Refreshing!

Good stuff. Thanks!

Rick Matz said...

All of the above, in a good way!

Zacky Chan said...

Great post. When I first came to Japan I really wanted to find some kind of craftsmanship to become immersed in. I've ended up doing aikido and kyudo, which aren't "crafstman" arts by many modern's definitions, but lately I've been thinking quite the opposite, very similarly to what is said in the article. Crafstmanship is not just about putting hammer to nail to wood, but putting your intention into a project. Great stuff.

Rick Matz said...

The ideas in this article may be applied to just about anything we do.

Compass Architect said...

Measure twice, cut once, that was one of my favorite quotes.

I preferred "Measure thrice, cut once " Clue: Thinking three dimensional. ...

Rick Matz said...

Measure with a micrometer. Mark with chalk. Cut with an ax.

Compass Architect said...

Always measure, mark and cut for precision.