Monday, June 15, 2015

The trouble with "broken"

June here on the Prosers is all about broken characters. When we discussed the themes for this year I expressed some concern for the term "broken" with regard to it being used about people. Someone, I can't remember who at this point, rather brilliantly told me that I should write about my concerns as my post.

Here's the thing: the term "broken" often gets applied to people who are somehow out of the norm. In all cases I have tremendous issues with other people using the term to describe anyone. If someone wants to deem themselves "broken", have at it.

Various dictionaries have the following definitions for the term "broken":
Forcibly separated into two or more pieces. Having been violated. Being in a state of disarray. Subdued totally. Humbled. Weakened and infirm, not functioning.
The definition is a huge part of what I dislike about using the term to describe humans, be they fictional or not. The term, as applied to people, usually just means "not normal" or someone who's been hurt or even victimized. I'm not exactly a fan of "normal" to begin with, mostly because while human beings are herd animals who strive not to be too different, we are also normative in our quest for uniqueness. And "normal" is also and has always been an excuse to bully.

The second problem with broken is that the general feeling seems to be that once something is broken, it's broken forever. And while that may be true of pottery, humans have an incredible capacity for healing. Labeling someone as broken also labels them beyond repair. It is a way for an outsider labeling someone as a victim instead of a survivor.

For those who feel or have felt broken during their lives, I would like to introduce the Japanese term "kintsukuroi". It is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum. It also means that breakage and repair are not things to be hidden but mark a piece of the thing's history.

And often, if you're very lucky, the thing that was broken and repaired is all the more beautiful for having been broken and repaired.


  1. Love this post. I have so many opinions, I think I might just have to write a blog post about it. :)


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