A New Wabi-Sabi Stereotype for WV (or what West Virginia Can Learn from Swiss Cheese)

I was pleased to be invited by Jason Keeling of aBetterWestVirginia.com to participate in his idea to share and help define a new stereotype for West Virginia on this West Virginia Day. I think it's a great way to celebrate our state's 145th birthday.

I'm eager to read the ideas of my fellow Mountain State bloggers and comments from others as posts are published throughout the day. The idea has already garnered some positive press in the Charleston Gazette, and hopefully it will be a catalyst for further discussion and reflection about what West Virginia is and what West Virginia will be in the future.

As I considered my own perceptions and experiences, many thoughts and ideas came to mind. There are so many reasons why I feel privileged to live and raise my family here. Ultimately though, I think that the new stereotype for West Virginia is epitomized by the Japanese concept that I have adopted as the title of my blog, Wabi-Sabi.

It is the unconventional concept of Wabi-Sabi that epitomizes what I hope will become West Virginia's new stereotypes.

As I've noted often before...
Wabi-Sabi is the way of the new and unfinished (Wabi) as it interacts with the aged and wise (Sabi).
  • It's the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
  • It's the beauty of things modest and humble.
  • It's the beauty of things unconventional.
In other words, Wabi-Sabi is the difference between a pre-fabricated slick piece of furniture and a hand crafted piece of woodwork.   True beauty and value is sometimes found in small imperfections, rather than slick perfection.

West Virginia is a Wabi-Sabi state in many different ways. It is rustic and unassuming. Its people are humble and unconventional. We are not perfect and rarely claim to be.

For example, we have some of the most talented artisans in the world and WV glass makers such as Blenko are internationally acclaimed. The essence of the combination of their artistic beauty combined with functionality is Wabi-Sabi.

Also, workers in WV are known for their reliability. Although sadly their work ethic has too often been exploited by those who place profit above safety. Nonetheless, companies including Toyota have recognized the value that WV workers bring to their corporate endeavors.

West Virginia celebrities such as Jennifer Garner, Don Knotts, Brad Paisley and others are typically modest and humble - another component of Wabi-Sabi.

Acclaimed business leaders from West Virginia such as Cisco's John Chambers and the late Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan also epitomize this concept.

Even the recent success of WVU's football and basketball teams with the unconventional approaches of Rich Rodriguez and John Beilein has evoked descriptions that could be characterized as Wabi-Sabi. Even after both coaches left, their teams continued to excel - demonstrating the resilience that is so common in WV.  I think that's part of why the state has embraced the teams so much.  The fans of Marshall University feel a similar bond following the Huntington community's comeback after the 1970 plane crash as commemorated in the film, "We Are... Marshall".

Even our state's history is somewhat imperfect, incomplete and unconventional, but beautiful nonetheless. Most folks outside our borders don't realize that the counties that make up WV were formerly part of Virginia and petitioned to rejoin the Union after Virginia joined the Confederacy during the US Civil War. (Personally, I think that should give West Virginia first dibs on the name Virginia, but that's for another day.)

Also, rather than being a state full of racists as the pundits claimed during the recent Democratic Primary, our state has a rich history of outstanding accomplishments from African American leaders including Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Booker T. Washington, the aforementioned Rev. Sullivan and many others including Henry Louis Gates Jr.

There are many more examples that I could share, and I expect that many will be discussed by my fellow WV bloggers today, but I think that these are the type of things that distinguish West Virginia from many other states and should be the essence of our new WV stereotype.

Just as blogs and Web 2.0 technologies have redefined what a "good" website should be compared to the conventional wisdom of 2000 and before, I think that West Virginia has an opportunity to embrace it's inner Wabi-Sabi and define our own new stereotypes while the others hopefully fade away into oblivion.

We should embrace what makes us unconventional, imperfect and modest, yet at the same time makes us beautiful and gives us our unique value.

Ultimately, West Virginia is like swiss cheese. We have lots of "holes", but rather than cursing them, we should recognize it is those proverbial holes that make us who and what we are... wild and wonderful West Virginia!