Sunday, 17 February 2008

Richard Sennett & the Art of Dating

Nick sent me this nice little article on 'The Art of Being Present', specifically with reference to dating! Rather improbably, it reminded me of a lunchtime seminar I went to the other week with Richard Sennett, Professor of Sociology at LSE and someone whose books have intrigued me for years.

His latest book, just out, is 'The Craftsman', and he spoke about both craft skills and craft as an attitude to relationships. One of his most striking points was that perfectionism is the sign of a bad craftsman. A good craftsman is capable of letting go - both in the sense of losing himself in his work, and in the sense of knowing when to stop, being able to recognise the point beyond which more time spent on a piece of work will be counterproductive.

Moving to the sphere of relationships, he talked about two different attitudes to parenting, advocated by two different eighteenth century figures. Rousseau presented an ideal model of how children should be brought up. Madame D'Epinay saw this as a dangerous step - and instead connected parenting to craft, emphasising the importance of not being a perfectionist. Only when the parent is willing to be 'good enough', rather than needing to be 'right', does the child have room for autonomy. Like a bad craftsman, a perfectionist parent doesn't know when to let go.

The same basic wisdom, without the historical footnotes, comes through in the article by Matt:

Even now, staying present is something I have to practice; It is an art form, and like many activities, it is something I do well at when I accept that I am not perfect at it.

He gives the example of catching himself thinking about what to say next, instead of listening to the person he's with - 'the antithesis of being present'.

To get back to being present in this context, I remind myself that sometimes I do not have perfect responses. I remind myself that it is fine that I am an occasional dork. It is a part of me, and I dig it. The person I'm interacting with can take it or leave it. Ironically, losing the need for a perfect response often yields great responses: By accepting my quirk - too much interest in attracting someone, or some result - I find myself no longer trying to impress. Trying is the antithesis of being present.

Though I'm no longer in the dating game, I find it very helpful to be reminded of this stuff - and of my own counterproductive tendencies. I also find it helpful to have those tendencies set in the kind of historical context Sennett offers. If we struggle to stay present, it's partly because modern society has privileged the doomed attempt at perfection over the attitude of the craftsman. (A lesson I first began to learn from Anthony.)


SimplyTim said...

Hi Dougald,

Another winning post here.

Enough's enough.


Dougald Hine said...

Thanks, Tim!

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