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05.27.2014 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

Why Beauty Matters

I woke this morning thinking about beautiful places and found myself asking, why does it matter? Why is it so important to me to experience such places?

I know exactly what triggered these thoughts. I watched that darned Anthony Bourdain late last night, and there he was putting ideas in my head about the mystery and enchantment of Tangiers.

But, really? Why Tangiers? For all the wonders he shared, I couldn't get past the dirt and trash on nearly every city street.

Let me clarify. I’m not one to typically fuss about such things. After all, I’m originally from the inner city of Los Angeles. I get graffiti, and I know how easily it is for trash to pile up on a busy street corner. Still, no matter how convincing Bourdain was, I somehow knew that Tangiers wouldn't make my bucket list.

I have no doubt that Tangiers is an interesting place. However, it troubled me, this business of people walking right on past the dirt and trash, oblivious, as though it were someone else’s responsibility. Never their own.

It troubled me because I saw my own face among the crowd. In New York. In Chicago. Miami.

In that moment I realized that beauty means a great deal to me, so I’d better get it right. I’d better be more intentional about protecting it. And, it’s not just beauty for the sake of beauty. It’s beauty for the sake of character.

I've decided, then, that beauty does matter, and it matters for several important reasons.

1. Beauty Produces Order

When places are beautiful, whether it’s our cities, our parks, our beaches, our homes, our airports—whatever the case may be, those places then become symbols of order. They reflect who we are as a society.

Are we a people who value and respect our resources, or are we a people who set out to destroy and undermine that which we claim to hold most dear?

I seek out beauty because it restores my sense of order. I see it with my eyes, experience it with my body, and I am changed by it. I want to embody that order. I want to bring order into my own life in a grander way.

I seem to remember an article I read some time ago where a group of well-meaning volunteers went into an inner city ghetto-type environment and cleaned up an entire neighborhood only to return some months later and find it in chaotic disarray once again.

What they learned from that experiment was that they had missed the point. The people in that neighborhood hadn’t been asked to participant in the process, so they reverted to their old irresponsible ways.

When the volunteers returned a second time, they sought input from the people who lived in the neighborhood, included them in the clean-up process, and then had an entirely different outcome.

When we create beauty, value, and protect it, we create not only order, but we generate a greater sense of ownership and responsibility.

I vow to not only seek out beauty and enjoy it, but to create it, and to take on responsibility for it.

2. Beauty Empowers Future Generations to Be Good Stewards

If we accept the premise that our individual actions have the potential to generate a rippling effect, then it’s important to acknowledge the impact of beauty on future generations. We either teach our children to walk on past the dirt of life or to do something about it.

It’s pretty simple, really. When we create, value, and protect beauty, our children learn to become greater stewards of beauty themselves. In our busyness, then, it’s important to take time to teach them what beauty actually is.

Where does it reside? What does it look like?

Bourdain sees beauty in the midst of Tangiers, a beauty that came from his knowledge of this city. I, on the other hand, could only see a disorderly culture. What this tells me is that beauty must be fully experienced. I couldn't realize the majesty of Tangiers via television. In order to truly care about something, I must experience the wonder of it firsthand.

Similarly, if our children are to care about beautiful places, it is our responsibility to creatively move them beyond technology into real-life experiences of parks, museums, seashores, and faraway places that inspire them to be good stewards of our global resources.

I vow to do a better job of getting those I care about to places of beauty so that they can be better stewards.

3. Beauty Connects Us with Our Creator

Beautiful places make me feel more connected to God.

Think about it. You stand on a seashore starring out at the ocean or you look up to California Redwoods several stories high, and don’t you wonder? How is such beauty even possible?

I remember taking our son Michael to the Grand Canyon when he was in middle-school, and as we looked out over the rim, that amazing site before us—purples and pinks, mountains so beautiful that they are impossible to capture via camera—my son asked the sweetest question:

“Who built these buildings, Mom?”

Without hesitation, I replied, “God did, Son. These are not buildings, but mountains and canyons.”

Together we stood in awe and wonder. Speechless that we were so blessed to witness the beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork.

My friend Vernon Rainwater has taught me a great deal about beauty. He speaks to beauty in ways I’m incapable of expressing.

Let me try and paraphrase. He talks about God creating the earth and all its surroundings in six days, and, as the story goes, on the seventh day, God rested. He also turned the responsibility over to us. We are to rest on the seventh day, so that we can rise up on Monday morning, fully restored, and create and protect beauty all over again.

I just love the idea of God as a creative artist. I was reminded of this just last week as I sat in a friend’s office and marveled at the variety of species in his fish tank.

Beauty is everywhere.

I vow to take the time to notice it, and to acknowledge that our God is a creative God who designed a beautiful world and entrusted it to us for safe keeping.

Q: What one step can you take to create and value beauty in a bigger way?

[reminder]

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. May 27, 2014