Like you, I have many threads and identities that weave in and out of my everyday life – pianist, author, runner, professional, hiker, etc. Nevertheless, one thread runs consistently through them all, and that is beauty. It has never shown up twice in the same way, and yet it is familiar. I often wonder at its imprint on my heart and how it’s leading me Home, especially here and now, in my first few blog posts for The Good Life.
I remember when the lightning bolt first hit. It did not come from a storm in the sky. The Love Good website had just finished loading, and there were four words etched on the front page: Beauty That Transforms Culture. This vision struck a chord in my mind and still echoes in the chambers of my heart. Sitting and reflecting, I repeated those words like a quiet mantra… Beauty That Transforms Culture. I realized this vision is powerful because it is timeless and because it is true.
After a few moments, a feeling of déjà vu settled in. I had heard this message already. My memory flashed back to junior year of college. On that first January day of class, my professor began with a sort of meditation. He reflected that the beginning of ethics among our earliest ancestors might have had a foundation in various experiences of awe. He quipped, “Awe leads to ought.” In other words, a sense of how we ought to act arises first from our sense of the Beautiful, of the precious value of someone or some experience. Awe is inextricably linked to action. Beauty and behavior. Beauty and culture. If this were true, it means that the link between beauty and culture is timeless, since the dawn of history.
I tested the strength of this pithy claim with an experiment in reflection, pondering each separate from the other. First, consider awe without any sense of how you “ought” to act. Awe in isolation is no more than a passing feeling, barren, fruitless. It leads to nothing beyond itself. Now, consider a sense of “ought” without any preceding awe. “Ought” unhinged from awe would be arbitrary. It would be like a plant, uprooted from the soil that sustains it, rendered lifeless and plastic. My mini-thought experiment only reinforced how true the connection is between awe and action, beauty and behavior, beauty and culture.
I was never a biology major, but the image of a double helix came quickly to mind. If our world – our society -was like DNA, and beauty was one strand, culture would be the other. Try to separate the two and you unravel the whole enterprise. Yes, culture, in one sense, is that noun capturing the collective intellectual, artistic, and behavioral norms within a community or nation. However, in the biological sense, culture is a verb meaning to enable conditions conducive to growth. Metaphorically, the latter meaning is precisely how beauty transforms culture.
To put it simply, beauty cannot help but enable conditions conducive to growth. Beauty, by its nature, cultures.