There’s an ancient Japanese tradition called Kintsugi, which means “golden joinery”. When a prized piece of porcelain artwork breaks, instead of ‘restoring’ it by doing everything possible to disguise the repairs, they fill the fissures with gold as a way of highlighting and celebrating the history of the object. The Japanese don’t necessarily see a crack as a defect that decreases value. They can choose to look upon it as adding value, interest and mana. This, to me, belies a healthy cultural outlook on life as opposed to our more Anglo Saxon obsession with standards of perfection that don’t match reality.
In a world where apples aren’t allowed to come with blemishes, Hollywood only shows us perfect bodies and people only show you their best sides on social media, the benefit of applying the above alternative lens to the way we think about mental health is obvious. But I reckon we could all enjoy life a little bit more if we applied it to a whole raft of other things we care about as well.
What’s a good example… I dunno… Let’s use… Something completely random… I know! Football.
Canterbury are currently the best team in the National Women’s League and I doubt too many people would dispute that. If the TAB had run a book on this game, a $1 wager on the Mainlanders coming out on top would have netted you a return of something in the vicinity of $1.10 at the most. Anyone who turned up at John Kerkhof Park expecting a different result might as well have stayed home, fired up YouTube and backed Wile E Coyote to get one over Roadrunner. No offence to WaiBOP at all, they are an exceptionally good young team, but sometimes you just have to acknowledge that the opposition are in a different class and some of Canterbury’s players are, to quote Neil Emblen, “better than the level”.
Lots of leagues have dominant teams that simply don’t lose, but even when faced with overwhelmingly bad odds it doesn’t seem to stop some fans from behaving poorly when their favourite teams don’t perform to their exacting superhuman standards. Case in point: Three weeks ago, when WaiBOP, average age well under 20, played an Auckland side laden with internationals after only having been together a week, I witnessed one ‘gentleman’ leave the ground before half time. He was furiously ranting that “WaiBOP are useless”. I’m at a loss to fathom where that sort of attitude comes from and what end it serves.
It got me thinking though…
Why can’t we celebrate football defeats like the Japanese celebrate cracks? Just like a crack is an important part of the history of an object, a defeat is an important part of the journey of a football team. In rugby league they say you can’t win a Grand Final until you’ve lost one. That’s because defeats teach us the lessons that make victory possible. They are the antidote to complacency. And for fans, bad days are the petrol that fuels our burning passions – making the great days that much more special. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it at least a million times – it’s impossible to properly appreciate victory if you’ve never tasted bitter defeat.
What are we afraid of? If we suddenly start praising losing teams with gay abandon, do we worry that, like a wolf that’s tasted its first sheep, players might get a taste for losing and become unstoppable in their thirst for conceding goals? Would football scores suddenly look more like basketball ones as teams queue up to smash the ball past their own keepers?
Or maybe, just maybe, if we start celebrating our flaws more often, footballers won’t drop their heads when they miss a tackle or shoot wide – making them more likely to snuff out the next threat or find the back of the net next time. Maybe teams will bounce back from a hard loss quickly and be in a better mental space to win the following week.
And maybe, just maybe, if we start celebrating our flaws more often, people will talk about their mental health and wellbeing out in the open without fear or shame – making everyone healthier for it.
Some football clubs and national teams have a gold star on their shirt for every championship they’ve won. What if, instead, we could advance as a civilisation to the point where a team could proudly wear a star for every wooden spoon they’ve ever collected? Or for every double digit whooping they’ve been on the receiving end of. Then, if you see a team with multiple stars lift a trophy, you know they’ve been through a dark tunnel, emerged from the other side, climbed a mountain and achieved something special – not just another notch in their belt.
That’s what I call enlightenment.
WaiBOP 0, Canterbury 5
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]