The Power of Beauty
In my own space, I surround myself with beauty. My eyes can rest on an air plant, a photograph, or my tinkling fountain and I can find joy and peace in what I see.
Visual cues are a major contributor to behavior. When I see something that “needs doing” it could inspire me to take action, or it could cause me to feel helpless. When I see something in a state of decay, disorder, or ugliness, it could inspire me to invigorate it or to feel despair. When I see something beautiful, however, the worst outcome would be blind indifference. The best outcomes include feeling more creative, restored, tranquil, or happy.
Beauty is a value that is lost to most of America. The overall culture shames you for being materialistic, for being vain, for being “shallow.” However, appreciating beauty is no more shallow than enjoying a delicious, well-prepared meal. Identifying special visual treasures is no more shallow than stopping and smelling a rose. Carefully creating composition that delights the eye is no more shallow than luxuriating in a massage, or feeling comforted by the hug of a friend.
Visual pleasure is no less valuable than any other form of sensory pleasure. And visual information is no less valid than other sensory information.
Why have visual cues been denounced? Perhaps it is because corporations have been taking advantage of the power of visual cues to market us products – particularly through sexuality. Our ability to judge a healthy mate based on their appearance is meant to be used to produce healthy offspring, and yet that instinct is being twisted into selling us cheap trash that pollutes our bodies, homes, and planet. This ploy is causing many people to blame the enjoyment of visual beauty itself rather than blaming the true culprit: fear-based, power-grabbing, corporate entities.
This same marketing is used in movies and concerts. Product placement is utilized to show us that the characters we’re becoming attached to like particular brand name cigarettes and soda. These products aren’t inherently beautiful at all. They’re intended to be eye-catching through boldness – not through elegance. There is no peace or harmony in your corner-store selling soda and cigarettes – there is a cacophony of color competing for our attention, each trying to promise us a moment’s escape. Perhaps we wouldn’t need that escape if we had true beauty in our lives.
Commercials use strange tricks to make their advertisements more convincing. The milk is really glue mixed with water. The ice cubes are actually acrylic. The condensation on the glass was sprayed there. That perfect “splash shot” was created on a computer by combining three different photographs. The perfect-looking produce was selected from among dozens – sometimes hundreds. The “fresh baked” brownie was actually made days ago and they made it look fresh by using a hairdryer to melt the exterior again. These commercials are made so perfect with specially created and programmed robots. The client can pay $100,000 for a four-second commercial. All so that you’ll be convinced their cheap product is beautiful – when it really isn’t.
Beauty is most twisted by corporate interests, but occasionally we may meet someone who is truly both vain and cruel. These people are exceptionally rare despite how often this archetype shows up in stories: a beautiful, yet narcissistic woman who uses her beauty to manipulate and hurt others.
In all cases of twisted beauty: the manipulative behavior is based on a deep-rooted fear that drives a person to seek power through controlling and manipulating others.
The fact that some people misuse something doesn’t make that something wrong or bad. As a society and a culture, we get that wrong time and time again. Money isn’t evil – those who misuse money cause evil things to happen. In fact, the original invention of money rescued countless poor people from starvation. Prior to money, there was no way for a farmer to store the value of their labor; they had to trade their fresh food immediately, and if they couldn’t trade for anything that lasted (such as a metal statue), then their family would go hungry in the next famine.
One of my high school art teachers had a poster that stuck with me: “Paints aren’t messy: people are.” Power itself is not evil and it does not create evil. Power causes whatever is already within a person to become amplified by that power.
You might be wondering about that quote that says, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but I can tell you that it is absolutely wrong. Absolute power allows someone’s most deeply hidden fears to run the show. If someone was already afraid of not having enough, then they will use their power to try to secure “enough” to feel safe. Yet they will never succeed.
The fear of not having enough, sometimes called “lack mentality” or taṇhā, comes from childhood traumas where there literally wasn’t enough. It could have been a lack of money, a lack of warmth, a lack of companionship, a lack of physical safety, or a lack of emotional safety. Whatever you lacked under the age of eight continues to haunt you until you create full emotional resolve for that lack – and most people never do. And this is why most people become tyrants with absolute power. They try to make themselves safe, but amassing more wealth often plays into those same insecurities and makes one terrified of loss.
We can break the cycle by creating an environment for the next generation that contains real security, compassion, and beauty. A child raised with the security of a loving family will not seek the empty solace of a vain companion who offers physical closeness without emotional intimacy. A child raised with real beauty will not try to comfort themselves in adulthood with cheap plastic trinkets.
Imagine if we valued real beauty again. Imagine a world where the poor invested in beauty the same way the wealthy do. Imagine how the world might transform if each household embraced elegance as a value. A poor family might buy and plant a single daffodil bulb, and given five years that bulb will have multiplied into twenty to thirty bulbs, offering one of nature’s most transcendent creations: flowers.
There is nothing wrong with power, money, paint, or beauty. These are just tools for manifesting your inner truth in life.
Enjoy the beauty in your life – there is absolutely no shame in it.
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