Things are getting ugly. No, I’m not talking about the political season, although the statement certainly could apply to our political culture. When I say things are getting ugly, I mean everything. I define ugly as the absence of beauty. It is not that beauty is not around, it is more that it has been diminished, ignored, and overlooked. It seems as if the average American will choose almost anything over the truly beautiful – that which is transcendent.
Violence is in.
Aggression is in.
Winning is in.
Succeeding is in.
Easy and cheap escapism is in.
Riches and materialism are in.
Ten easy steps to accomplish almost anything or become almost anyone is in.
Beauty and transcendence? Not so much.
I am growing fearful that we have become so dumbed down, so uncultured as a society that we no longer have any idea what is truly beautiful.
Part of the problem is that, in many ways, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as the saying goes. However, there are some things that apply to beauty that are eternal and true. Manly we know that beauty touches the human heart and moves the human soul. There is an intangible aspect to it, but there is no doubt when one has encountered it. They are moved. They are changed. They, in some sense, have encountered that which is transcendent – a reality that is beyond themselves and is … well, beautiful.
Beauty does not inflict harm through violence, and it does not glorify it. Beauty does not destroy others. It does not jocky for advancement. It does not escape but rather seeks out the best of ourselves and celebrates it. It is much more interested in feeling more, experiencing more, and encountering more than it is in acquiring. Beauty is certainly not simplistic and will never be defined in 10 easy steps.
While “Ten Easy Steps to (fill in the blank)” may sell books, fill seminars and increase blog traffic, they rarely bring us into contact with that which last and moves us beyond ourselves. While concreate foundations may make us feel temporarly safe, they will never enable us to fly.
I have spent a lifetime seeking, reading, learning, hearing, teaching and proclaiming answers and if I am honest the result has been disappointing. Answers aren’t all they are cracked up to be. I’ll take beauty. Matthew Arnold says that “Not deep the poet sees, but wide.” While beauty may not be terribly pragmatic, it does open us to the possibilities that dreams open up within us.
While living a life committed to beauty, art, and transcendence may be countercultural in a society that values pragmatism over simply being, it is worth the effort.
One of the things I love about where I live in Colorado is that the sky is so often clear. I love to sit in my swing or lay in my hammock and stare up to the stars at night. I can not define what occurs but something good happens deep within my soul. The stars I see on the evenings when I take time to look at them accomplish no purpose, but to exist and to be encountered by a man laying in a hammock whose soul seeks that which is beautiful.
That is why I hang beautiful art in my home and listen to Ludovico Einaudi’s “Nuvole Bianche” while I write. It is why, after 35 years I still listen to Dave Gruisin’s “On Golden Pond” and it is as fresh as the day I first heard it. It is why I will read Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” again for the fifth and sixth time but have promised to never read another “leadership” book as long as I live. It is why “The Mission” will beat out a super hero movie for as long as I live.
It is why I would rather be a writer than a proclaimer and why I would rather be a poet than professor.