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  • This story was Inspired by the following quote:

    "Tradition ...cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour."
    - T.S. Eliot


    shared by David Richardson, a fellow member of the Critical Craft Forum
    during a conversation about the changing definition of "craft"


    -----


    I used to think tradition is merely a set of codified rules, rituals, or dogmatic values
    shoved down the throats of young'ens by the grumpy old elders who refuse to stop
    calling them Kids these days...

    There's a ritual among Koreans known as the deep bow (큰절), where you go down on
    your knees and lower your entire upper body including your head to pay respect to the
    elders on a special occasion. For the longest time I couldn't understand why I had to do
    this stupid thing. It seemed meaningless and superficial. What does this gesture have
    anything to do with paying respect? It's just a stupid symbol, no?

    Well... few years back, after 30 years of deep bowing, I had a profound experience.

    When I was leaving the company I was working for at the time, I felt a sincere sense
    of gratitude for the mentor I had there. I wanted to pay him respect. He was American,
    and I didn't know what Americans did to pay respect to the elders, so I just intuitively
    thought I'll do the Korean deep bow for him. And I did.

    But when I did, I realized that the same movement of going down on my knees,
    and lowering my head to the ground felt different this time. If I could use one word to
    describe the feeling, it would be humbling. I've heard that word abused so many
    times by people expressing what I considered to be nothing more than false modesty.
    It was a word that had lost its meaning for me.

    But It turns out, humbling is a real feeling, and not as somber a feeling as I had expected.
    It was a mixture of a mild sense of confidence, or maybe a sense of certainty and
    trust coming from knowing that there is a person that I can rely on, and a feeling of calm
    excitement coming from the realization that he is proof that there's still so much I could
    learn. I was embarassed to think that perhaps this is the first time in my entire life that
    I actually felt a sincere desire to pay somebody respect. And as I was feeling this,
    I also couldn't help but wonder if this was the feeling that my ancestors wanted to
    retain by passing down this ritual.

    So at this point the deep bow was no longer something I "inherited." I embodied the
    lesson through experience. It was meaningful to me. I don't know how "great" of a labor
    that was, but it did take this idiot 30 years just to realize the meaning behind a rather
    ordinary ritual.

    To be clear, however, this isn't to argue for the dogmatic preservation of the deep bow.
    I personally think there's much value in it, and would like to continue to practice it myself.
    But at the same time I think there are other forms that can be used to embody the same
    lesson. If anything, the traditional form can be used as a starting point, and so long as
    you can keep the core values intact, the form and matter may be open to revision.

    What I gather from this conversation thus far is that, just as my ancestors hoped to not
    lose the meaning behind the deep bow, by passing down the deep bow form, perhaps
    what we all want is to not to lose sight of the meaning that underlies the word craft
    regardless of how the word itself gets shifted around during this transitional period,


    ----
    Photo credit: Avalon Garden on Flickr
    Further conversation on facebook
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