Search For Meaning Leads To Self-Discovery

20 Nov 2005|Darrel Rhea

Writing Making Meaning has been an interesting process. Not only was our topic and material born from hundreds of thousands of interviews over many years of professional work, but as we get closer to the publication date, the book has also resulted in an increased intensity at Cheskin of internal discussions about our own treasured objects and the respective personal meanings behind them for us.

This round of discovery was kicked off when I asked all my Cheskin coworkers to do a short exercise and send me the results. My requested was that each person choose an article that he/she had purchased and which had provided a meaningful experience, to write a short essay about it and to send me the results. I also requested a photo of the object with the author.

To make clear what I was requesting, I wrote one myself and attached it to the request. Here’s mine:

“When I was an art student in my University days, I went to Mexico. I was studying the history of Mexican art, reading, going to museums. I was taken by the simple but powerful graphics of the Mayan culture from over 1000 years ago. There was something in the simplicity of the style that I loved. I happened upon a tiny village near Oaxaca called Teotitlán del Valle, and met a weaver that made exquisite tapestries using Zapotec themes, in a way that had been passed down for scores of generations. All natural fibers and vegetable dyes, a 100 year old loom, a mud and brick building with a dirt floor, and the most humble of surroundings.

Alberto Vasquez Jiménez was a simple man who cared most about honoring his craft, about recreating the symbols of his culture with excellence. Since my father was a craftsman, I grew up working with fabrics and textiles and was skilled as a journeyman upholsterer as a young teen. I knew about craft — about doing things the hard, time-consuming way because it made the product the best it could be. The craftsman does these things even when that care may not be seen by the layperson; it’s an expression of ones integrity and pride. Alberto turned out to be internationally acclaimed masterweaver, with tapestries in museums around the world and standing offers to live and teach in the US. Yet he rejected those opportunities to live simply in relative poverty. He knew who he was, what made him happy, and why his art had meaning. He sold his works so they were affordable to a student like myself. I bought three very basic tapestries, and have slept under one almost every cold night during the last 35 years.

That blanket is meaningful to me because it connects me in some way to a 1000 year old culture, to the way that design expresses culture, to the values of craftsmanship taught to me by my father, to a dedicated artist who was true to himself, humble, and authentic.”

Just going through this process led me to some self-discoveries. Even the initial considerations about what possessions are most meaningful to me was enriching, but even more so was the deeper examination of one particular item – analyzing how it is important to me and how.

But what I liked best about the exercise is the fascinating stories I am getting back from my colleagues at Cheskin. Every one is different. Every one is revealing. And I am learning surprising (and endearing) things about the people of Cheskin, individually and culturally.

Now I am ready to take this exercise external. If you are willing, I’d like to hear from you, my blog-reader, about your story of what is meaningful to you. Here are the ground rules:

Select a product or service that you have purchased that has provided you with a meaningful experience. It should be a product that says something about who you are and what you value as a human being. It might be a product you love, but it should be more. You should feel connected to the product, the brand, or the company that offers it. It might be a thing that you would consider important enough to grab when facing a fire or flood. Or it might be something easily replaceable, but dear to you. anyway. While family heirlooms are often very meaningful to us, it is important that you choose a product that you have purchased, though it might be worthy of becoming an heirloom in the future Please, no pets.

Once you select your product, write a simple 200-300 word story on why it holds meaning for you. Then email the story to me – along with a photo if you wish.

I promise that you will get value from doing this, as you’ll find that in only a couple minutes you will learn a lot about yourself as I did. Please be sure to let me know if I can share your story as an aggregate part of my work, or if I need to keep it (and your identity, of course) private. Feel free to pass the request along to friends or family that might enjoy doing this too.

Thank you! I am really looking forward to reading what you write, and sharing my discoveries about meaning with you.

prev next