Confucius said: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Why do you think that is? Have you ever thought much about standards of beauty? Where do they come from? Who makes them up? And why?
These standards cause so much pain and misery. While we have paid more attention to the negative impact of unreasonable standards for women, men are also feeling it in greater numbers. For example, eating disorders are rising for men.
If everything has beauty, then why can’t we see it? For me, it seems the answer lies in the conditioning we received when we are young, usually too young to think for ourselves. If philosophy has any real offering to the modern world, it may be in encouraging us to examine our lives.
When we examine ourselves, we can question the values we were taught when we were young. That has more to do with ethics, but in this note I wanted to talk about beauty. We need to examine why we think things are beautiful and then ask ourselves if we want to buy into that or not.
I have been working with this question for years now. I am convinced that what I find beautiful is almost entirely socially constructed rather than any innate sense of beauty of not. A man came to speak at our school when I was a kid who had been badly burned and disfigured. But when he spoke to us he was “lit up” by the light in his eyes and the energy he gave to his talk.
It would be a good exercise to practice looking for the beauty in people you might normally judge as not beautiful. What are you judging? What standards are you using?
For example, our culture puts the emphasis on youth and thus people go to great lengths to avoid and/or get rid of wrinkles. But I find wrinkles beautiful. It shows a face that has lived and experienced life. It tells a unique story. I first noticed this when I saw pictures of old Native Americans. Their faces were carved in wrinkles and I found myself enthralled. What did someone go through to have that specific face?
A philosophical practice then could be to look for the beauty in everyone. Look for the inner light, the light in their eyes. Practice noticing the judgments that come up, not how automatic they are, and with that awareness choose to look for the beauty.
Perfectionism is painful. It is time to let it go. I remember talking with my mentor once about feeling “broken.” He picked up a stick and asked me if it was broken and I said “no.” Then he broke it in half and said, “Now it is perfectly broken.” When brokenness leads to bitterness, it is tragic. When brokenness leads to wisdom, it is beautiful.
William Blake wrote: “This is a picture of a quote from William Blake, If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” And beautiful!