Ideas Matter
Staying Hungry - What does this mean?

Quick Takes: On Beauty

Seth Godin's post this morning - Beauty as a signaling strategy - resonates deeply with me. He writes,

What's beauty? You know it when you see it, sure, but what is it? It turns out that beauty is an important evolutionary byproduct.

An organism needs to invest energy in being beautiful. ... As a result, most creatures evolved their definitions of beauty in a mate to match the displays of healthy creatures.

Human beings have adopted this signaling strategy with a vengeance.

Beauty is important especially when there is integrity between the internal quality and the external presence.

For example, television has devolved into lots of fake reality shows. I was flipping the channel last night and saw a guy in a bathing suit in a pool with a group of buxom women swimming with some large animal. The women were physically attractive, but you could tell by how they responded that they were not very interesting people. The forced expressions of interest and enthusiasm canceled out wherever beauty that truly existed in them. I turned the channel to watch a classic car auction with the sound off.

My friend Tom Morris writes about beauty in his book If Aristotle Ran General Motors. He sees beauty as one of the four foundations of human excellence. I like Tom's thinking on this because he makes a distinction between passive beauty, that beauty we admire in works of art, from active beauty that we create in what we do every day.

Seth writes,

Do you make something beautiful? It could be the way you write hand written letters or leave a little extra on the product, even if maybe it's not so efficient. Sometimes efficiency is beautiful, but only when it took a lot of extra effort to get there. Ordinary products are almost never beautiful. Austere products might be, but only when real effort is expended to make them that way.

Tom would call that performance art. When we are creating beauty, we are performing in ways that make a difference.

Several years ago, I was conducting a workshop for Tom in Arizona. I retitled his book, the subject of the workshop, to  If Aristotle Were Mayor. And a councilwoman from one of the small towns in the state asked about how beauty fits into decisions the city council was making about a new library. She felt that it needed to be beautiful. Her reason: "If it is beautiful, people will want to spend more time here." There was some interesting discussion about beauty between this municipal government leaders.

Beauty is more than the superficial adornments of physical attraction. Real beauty has a purpose that integrates something of value within with its expression on the outside. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for this reason, beauty has a richer depth to it that what I saw on TV last night.

Beauty takes effort, but so do all things things that matter. Of all the reality shows out there, my favority is What Not To Wear.  I like it principally because it is about how the outside of a person should reflect the inner beauty of a person. When the two come together, a transformation occurs that is beautiful. To be a transformed person takes effort, but the end result is not some cookie cutting edition of beauty, but the real deal.

Make it a beautiful day, today,okay?

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