Many, many years ago, I read a book that changed my way of looking at the world. The book was Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This little book is a recounting of a road trip taken by the author and his son. The author suffered mental illness in his life and the book has a strange feel to it, when you read it. It was rejected something like 121 times, before it was finally published.
This book infected my artistic life and my professional life as an engineer. The book is about the quest for quality. It resonated with me because, as either an artist or engineer (I would argue there is little difference between the two existences), I get intensely frustrated when I am not permitted to do my best, either because of time pressures or cost constraints. I feel an existential angst at leaving an artefact alone in the world, made by me, that is not the very best work I could do at the time. Ultimately, cranking out work that is far below your own capabilities is pretty soul-numbing.
Why do I care so much about this? I think there is something fundamental in all of us that wishes to create life, beauty, benefit and in a very real sense, something of lasting quality. It means we were here. It means our existence mattered. It means we left the place a tiny bit better than we found it.
When you learn to look at the world through the lens of quality, you see it in the most amazing and unexpected places. I find it possible to marvel at the elegance of a beautifully made object, whether that object is a piece of bespoke jewellery (I have a friend that makes the most AMAZING bespoke jewellery, but that’s another post for another day), or something as humble as a finely crafted wood working tool.
Having pride in your work is very important to the human spirit and to one’s human dignity. The necessity of having to take jobs that pay the bills, but force us to compromise on our own standards of quality can feel like an unendurable life sentence.
Isn’t it about time our society and our economy started to actually value our values?
To quote the author of ZATAOMM, Robert M. Pirsig, “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”