Core Values Redux: Beauty

This post is part of an ongoing challenge to go through James Clear’s list of Core Values and take a week to reflect on each one.


This is hard one for me. I feel like as I get older, I become increasingly hyper-rational and Vulcan, and I have a harder time seeing something and just feeling beauty. But I feel beauty broadly comes in two categories:

  1. ‘Collectively viewed beauty’ (or ‘societal’ beauty)
  2. ‘Personally viewed beauty’.

I don’t believe in non-quantifiable objectivism, so I wouldn’t say that anything is ‘objectively beautiful’, but there are some things that more people than not think of a beautiful: a vibrant sunset or Michelangelo’s Statue of David. And then there are things within each culture that collectively we say are beautiful: people with certain qualities of bone structure, symmetry, and body composition, for instance. This is the ‘collectively viewed beauty’ that is accepted within a given group. But the field of what is personally beautiful seems to be a great deal more vast.

Personal beauty, not surprisingly, is more closely linked to personal experiences. It’s less the beauty you see in that model or celebrity, and rather one’s partner, parent, sibling, child, or close friend. It’s not the thing that wrings an emotion from all, but that which induces a change in you specifically because it is tied to a memory that you have.

This is especially prevalent for items that remind us of the deceased or people we haven’t seen in a long time. For the last five years, I drink water out of the same insulated clear plastic cup with images of columbine flowers around the outside. To most people, it would be just any old hot or cold beverage cup they may see in a Colorado souvenir store. But it is the cup that I used to fill with crushed ice, water, and a straw everyday for my mom as her body was succumbing to Multiple System Atrophy. And so, because it reminds me of her, to me it is beautiful. Personal beauty comes not from some intrinsic quality, but from the entanglement with emotionally charged memories in our lives.

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