Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beauty

People seem willing to pay enormous amounts of money for a "room with a view"—like a hotel on the beach or a house on a hillside overlooking the city. You don't need it, though. You can enjoy beauty wherever you find it, but it can't be bought, sold or nailed down in any way. As soon as you try, the beauty is lost and you're stuck with a product that doesn't work as well as it should.

Beauty, of course, is subjective. Is the Grand Canyon beautiful, or just an unsightly gouge in the earth? It depends in part on what you are used to: If you have never seen it before, you might be duly impressed on first viewing, but you won't be if you come from a whole planet of Grand Canyons where it is just another hole in the ground.

One thing is certain: The longer you remain at the Grand Canyon, the less you are going to be awed by it. It's going to fade further and further from your consciousness until only your life on the edge of it matters. After all, you can't DO much with the Grand Canyon; it just sits there.

People may rave about how beautiful something is, but when they do, it is usually because (a) they are new to the experience, or (b) they are trying to sell you something, or (c) they are trying to sell themselves on the wisdom of investments they have already made.

Real estate agents always play up the supposed beauty of whatever area their selling: "Look at those mountains. Look at that seashore. If you buy this property, all of that can be yours!" In fact, it can't be yours. You can buy the property, but what happens shortly thereafter? You stop seeing the view!

Beauty, if it exists, is a temporary emotional reaction inside you, not an inherent quality of the outside world. It is not something you can hang your decisions on, because emotions change. The same view that got you excited the first time you saw it will probably be ho-hum by the fifth time. In the long run, you are concerned with the pragmatic struggles of life, not its setting.

There are things that people universally find beautiful. For example, we seem to be programmed by our genes to see certain facial configurations as attractive—a certain spacing of the eyes, for example—but even this universal beauty fades with exposure. If you marry a fashion model, her objective beauty vanishes to you almost immediately, and what matters from then on is the actual functioning of the relationship.

When it comes to making practical decisions about your life, beauty—in any form—is a big con job. If you choose real estate, relationships or even vacation destinations based on perceived beauty, you are bound to be disappointed. Although the brochure may look pretty, the destination isn't going to look the same to you once you get there and get acclimated. The real operational question is, "What do I do?" and beauty can't help you with that.

The people who try to buy beauty or sell themselves based on it are a sorry lot. If you choose a mate based on appearance or a house based on its scenic view, then you have cheated on the operational criteria that really matter in the long run. You can show off your landmark home or trophy wife to others, who may be impressed at first, but that's not much comfort later if the house doesn't work for you or the relationship hits the skids.

Beauty is something you are free to notice, even turn your head for, but if you start making real decisions based on it, you're doomed.

1 comment:

  1. I live in a house that has a beautiful tree in the backyard and a smaller but also beautiful one in the front yard. Every single time I look out the window and see those leafy giants I feel just a tiny bit happier. But I look out the window often, so the little bits of happiness mount up.

    We also have a room in our house that needs some renovations. Nothing is really wrong with it, but it looks unsightly. Every time I look at it, I feel just a little bit depressed. But I also see this room often, so the little bits of depression accumulate as well.

    So, I do not get used to beauty or to ugliness. Perhaps you are different (not much of a visual person, maybe?), but for some people beauty matters. Does to me. Of course, I could live without it, just like you could also live without travelling all over the world. But we don't wanna do that, do we?

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