Sunday, February 15, 2015

Round Robin: Is Beauty Necessary?

To love beauty is to see light.

YouTube is a fabulous resource, it really is. I stumbled on this old episode of Politically Incorrect and the issue at hand was that someone had set up an "egg bank" for infertile couples. Not all that controversial, you'd think, except that all the donor eggs were from actresses and models; the "bank" was trying to increase the odds that the resulting child would be good looking.

The entire panel agreed that it was a shallow concept and then went on to argue about the morality of doing so. But, if I may play devil's advocate here, why is wanting a good looking child shallow? Beauty is important. Studies have shown that good-looking people are paid more, are more likely to be liked and trusted, and are treated better in general. What parent wouldn't want to give their child an advantage like that if they could?

(I wouldn't watch the whole thing, it degenerates into a big 
argument about god and science, which doesn't get anywhere)

We are an intensely visual species, (the oldest art objects in the world are 75,000 year old etched snail shells) and we spend a lot of effort on making our surroundings and our selves attractive. We plant gardens, we paint walls, we tile our floors in patterns with pretty stones and bits of colored glass. We have based entire economies on gold, which is just a shiny metal with no practical purpose until electronics were invented. An appreciation of the aesthetic and a desire to decorate seem to be an innate characteristics of the species.

And beauty may not just be something we like (like sugar), but something we actually need. Studies have shown that people who live in unpleasant environments (crowding, high amounts of graffiti, urban decay, lack of plant life, etc.) have higher incidences of depression and anxiety. Office workers who have access to a window, report more job satisfaction than those who don't. Even mental patients react to the attractiveness of their surroundings. (The Effect of the Physical Environment on Mental Wellbeing)

Like all human impulses, there have been efforts to control it. Sumptuary laws have existed in multiple cultures. Many religions preach modesty and plainness in dress. But even those who consider "plainness" a virtue, (like the Amish and the Shakers) spend a lot of time on the visual. So much so that the "plain" boxes, buildings and quilts are considered works of art in their spare and severe perfection. 

The odd thing about beauty is that we simultaneously crave it and mistrust it. We tell our children "Don't judge a book by its cover", and that "real beauty comes from within", and then we invest in braces, lasik and acne medications.  We praise those with the visual sensitivity to decorate a house or compose a stunning floral arrangement and then denigrate them for choosing such a "shallow" specialty. 

Maybe it's because we know that beauty affects the way we think. Attractiveness has what is called a Halo Effect, where the person who is lucky enough to have a pretty face is also thought to be friendlier, smarter, and more trustworthy than those not as genetically blessed. Unfair, but true.

I have no answers. I think beauty is a need, not as critical as air, but still up there on my list of priorities. Perhaps the best we can do is try to be aware of the tendency to assign goodness to beauty, and to pay more attention to the contents than the label.

To read what other people are saying on this topic, check out their blogs.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dealing with clutter

My first semester at university, I lost my student ID 6 times in two months. That got to be expensive, so I put a box near the door of my dorm room as a place to put my keys and ID when I walked in. I didn’t lose them again for the rest of the year. After a while, I realized that other stuff found its way into the box. Rarely anything important, just general stuff that you get from walking around: flyers, receipts, change, an acorn.

Then I realized that what I really had, was a clutter catcher. Clutter catchers act in two ways:
  1. They corral your stuff so you can find it, and
  2. They keep your house from looking like a landfill.
Clutter, is anything that is out with no specific purpose. So if you are in the kitchen, and there is a toaster on the counter, it’s there for a purpose. But the stack of mail on the counter next to the toaster? that’s clutter.

But what if it is your habit to look through your mail while standing at the kitchen counter? Put a basket/box on the kitchen counter to hold the mail. This will make it look intentional, stop the mail from mysteriously migrating to other parts of the house, and as a bonus, keep you from getting butter on the light bill.

I cleaned out my main clutter catcher this weekend. I found:
  • 2 spools of red grosgrain ribbon, leftover from Christmas
  • tape measure
  • pedometer
  • coupon for deodorant
  • 2 crumpled restaurant receipts
  • a fortune from a fortune cookie: “You are about to embark on a most delightful journey.”
  • 2 Jolly Rancher wrappers
  • a breath mint
  • an assortment of keys, metal and electronic
  • a pair of cracked sunglasses
  • 2 pads of sticky notes
  • A tire pressure gauge
  • small change
  • a pencil
  • a flash drive
  • assorted business cards
  • spare car key and the tag from the dealership
  • a large metal hook
  • metal doohickey for my garage door lock
  • a hair tie
  • 2 of those plastic rings you find around the necks of soda bottles 
  • a folding brush/comb
  • a thank you note from the Empty Bowls event
  • a washer
  • entrance ticket to a Monet exhibit
  • plastic pegs from a game of Battleship
  • and a bottlecap
All of this in a 9 inch basket. If it had been spread out on the counter, it would have been a mess. But neatly contained, no-body noticed that I had all this junk sitting in my living room.

Personally, I find going through the basket kind of fun. It’s like a mini-archeological dig into your own life. What have I been doing for the last few months? Art exhibits? Movies? Bad dates? Good intentions gone awry? It’s all in there.

Right now it just holds my car keys and the pedometer, but it will soon fill up again with the detritus of living, and wait for me to deal with it.