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Greenville Business Magazine

The Good Stuff Within: Companies and People Should Look Deep Inside to Find Meaning

Feb 21, 2023 09:02AM ● By Marty Flynn

Beneath the veneer of the shiny new visage of our vibrant city lies an older body of resolve. Greenville is made of the good old stuff that cracks but does not crumble. While historians differ on the origins of our place name, the most inviting argument is that Greenville named itself by virtue of the hue of its verdant landscape.

Greenville has always been a destination of note albeit for varying reasons of attraction. Our city was once a sought-after respite for ailing visitors seeking a more agreeable air and an environment of recuperation. That same coveted air would later lose its freshness as the smokestacks of cotton mill after cotton mill billowed skyward.

The textile magnates had discovered a different kind of “green” in Greenville, and so our transformation into a commercial hub was spun into place. As the destiny of manufacturing is to weave its way out of work, the spinning looms eventually stalled, leaving a lull and a quest for a new identity. Our recent revival drew from the core lining of a welcoming Main Street, and a body of river having been unyoked from the harness of power provider for early industrialists, now content to flow alongside strolling visitors and pose for pictures.

The addition of the Liberty Bridge was not just a tourist enhancement, but a perfect partner in our new dance of prosperity. Where I am going here is that Greenville has been rebuilt from a well-worn cracked shell. Yes, we have many new dwellings adorning our skyline, but the main ingredients of our newly found fame were always sitting in the dusty cupboard of our clay beginnings.

The Japanese culture has a long tradition of embracing imperfection through a movement they call wabi-sabi. One of the earliest applications of this approach was the reparation of broken pottery into a form that rendered the restored version of the cracked pot more valuable than its original entity. This feat was accomplished by adorning the fissure with a golden glaze, and in so doing preserving its purpose, and endearing it to the beholder as something of substance and beauty.

Every great story is a comeback story whether it be in the form of redemption, rebranding, renewal, or just good old-fashioned refusal to quit. Are we not all flawed creatures who spend our lives trying to distance ourselves from our cracked parts only to realize, and often too late, that our best course of action is to stand in the midst of our brokenness, and re-purpose a better self out of this worn life-faring vessel that we are charged to captain.

We don’t fix things anymore. We don’t look at a product as the sum of its parts, but as one whole disposable commodity. In this replacement society of ours we don’t hang with things because we value newness and freshness more than durability. Manufacturers have masterfully choreographed this buy, use, dispose, repeat, cycle of consumption, and we have eagerly provided the spending power. The prevailing attitude is that things don’t have to have lasting value.

Our dependency on the supply market has robbed us of the rich inheritance of self-reliance bequeathed to us by our ancestors. These people were fixers, menders, crafters, and doers, who poured and re-poured life into the things they had. They knew their products by their parts, and maintained them to serve several generations of users as hand me down heirlooms. In our world today, the tailor, the cobbler, the horologist, and the mechanic, are fading anachronisms, while storage facilities and junk hauling services are multi-billion-dollar enterprises. We are losing our grit, that substance of resolve and resilience that keeps us steadfast in rocky times.

Self-reliance is a practice not a superpower to be summonsed on demand I think our approach to consumerism has spilled over into other areas of our existence. Important undertakings in our lives like education, career, and relationships, have become more of a transaction and less of a commitment. We opt out more often than we dig in, we change our work rather than work things out, and when the road gets rough we seek a new direction rather than stay the course.

The wabi-sabi philosophy also has relevance to our personal lives and our quest to be better people. In our pursuit of perfection we have shunned our authentic selves opting for a contrived modern pixel persona that speaks to somebody we are not. Our broken parts have quietly persevered waiting for us to dive deeper and recognize the shipwrecked treasure that bares our true story. It is time to look for the good stuff within. We need to activate our inner menders of truth.

In a similar vein of introspection, corporations are beginning to look inward for purposeful meaning rather than staring at a shallow reflection in the glass of a framed mission statement. It is through paying attention to the foundational cracks that we discover the heartbeat of an organization. When we mine through the ossified layers of functionality that have stifled growth and amassed cognitive waste, we discover a valuable power source fueled by inspiration, kindness, and dare I say, love.

So yes Greenville, keep the foodie bib front and center, but hospitality is a timeless host who crafts the right recipe for the right occasion, and always serves it on a placemat that bears the stains of our true story. Give me the old dusty red brick walls and the creaky oak wood floors that have withstood the footfall of a hundred years or more, for we need these reminders that life is not a polished portrait, but an evolving canvas of our becoming. Pass me on some more of that wabi-sabi please.

Marty Flynn is head of the marketing department at Greenville Technical College.