Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Bandy-Legged Hero

Photo by Cassie Klusman *
 "Socrates had a favorable opinion of men and women because he saw clearly that they were capable of the highest moral heroism. Their outward appearance was of no lasting significance. Beauty faded with age, and clothes could do little for a man or woman to enhance or detract from what nature had provided. He had no shoes and precious little in the way of garments, and God had made him an ugly man."
"Socrates was imperturbable. He exuded serenity. There were many things he deplored, but nothing left him depressed. If he was angry, he never showed it - except, in contrast to most people, who raise their voices in anger, he lowered his, and spoke quietly. To those who knew Socrates, he was impossible to dislike and difficult not to love." ~~ Paul Johnson, Socrates
In the light of today's perception of beauty equating happiness, Socrates seems a paradox. Here was a bandy-legged, ugly man with enormous lips, a flat, spreading nose, giant popping eyes, who was also bearded and hairy, yet, serene, curious, well-thought of, instructive, a seeker of personal virtue, wisdom, and understanding. He inspired and actually changed the world! A philosophical genius and a hero. His physical ugliness bothered him not. He light-heartedly joked about it. He fully grasped where lies the wealth of men and women. He was happy.

While a body can be spruced up a bit, outward beauty either is or isn't. It's a chance of birth. We can't change that no matter how much dye we use, or make-up, hair products, fashion sense, jewelry, or even Botox. Let me repeat that, outward beauty either is or isn't, we have it or we don't. It'd be helpful if we could all kindly accept that and move on. Physical beauty isn't a prize, it isn't a blessing. "She is blessed with good looks!" No, beauty just is or isn't. We have physical beauty or we don't. Beauty isn't 'good' nor homeliness or ugliness 'bad'. Bodily beauty - or lack thereof - isn't a moral condition. It just is.

Personal treasure lies in the mind, the spirit, the heart, the behavior, the levels of virtue, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Here is true beauty, attainable for all. Integrity and depth can be altered for better or worse all our lives long. Remarkable and encouraging. To seek truth by engaging in life in its simplest and most complicated forms is a choice.

So, why is it that we 21st Century Citizens feel the need to continually - manically - renovate our bodies - starving, punishing, waxing, plucking, shaving, dying, styling, manicuring, pedicuring, attiring, piercing, inking, perfuming, bedazzling, girdling, lifting, separating, deforming, and otherwise torturing them - in order to conform to a mysteriously ordered idea of beauty? Why, indeed, especially when the true worth of a man, woman, or child is within the attitude, the level of goodness, depth, and desire to grow in grace and knowledge?

Apparently modern man fails to understand where value lies. Tragedy this. Utter failure.

Obsessive beauty seeking seems to have created more insecurity and judgment than ever before. Unnecessarily so. Within each of us - whether outwardly ugly or beautiful or somewhere in between - lies the raw material to grow a serene, curious, relevant, helpful, inspirational, wise, understanding, caring, joyful person.

Please, don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to bathing or presenting ourselves at our natural best. Of course not. It's a wonderful thing to brighten our homes and communities with loveliness for loveliness sake. Robust health boosts the enjoyment of life and cleanliness is still next to godliness. Fashion is fun. Tweaking what God has given us can tidy up the garden of our appearance. I don't oppose these things, I applaud them. The balance is just off, that's all. Too much time and emphasis on clothes, make-up, weight, hair, teeth, skin tone, body shape, and dress size leaves little room for absorbing the hows and whys of an integrated life.

This absorption requires solitude, a quiet mind, a contented yet curious heart, focus. With all that life requires of us there really isn't time for vanity or self-condemnation based on physical appearance. One thing is required, and it's not more waxing, excessive closet-busting shopping trips, long hours flipping through Pinterest for hair style photos and make-up secrets, or a daily, time-slurping primping in front of a bedroom mirror. Grooming, yes. Preoccupation, no.

Single-mindedly stopping up our ears liberates us from our culture's siren call to celebrate the superficial while demanding we neglect life's purpose. In liberty is the opportunity for prolific personal growth accompanied by the hope of discovering what it means to truly be a beautiful person.

Like Socrates.

* Cassie took this photo of the bust of Socrates in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 2013. All Rights Reserved


Joanne Wilson said...

No wonder I love you so much! We are true soul mates when it comes to this way of thinking! Thank you for your expressing your thoughts. By the way, was that top photo taken at Disneyland?

Cherie said...

Yes, we are kindreds in so many ways, including this one, Joanne. And you're welcome. Thanks for commenting. Cassie took the photo last summer inside the gorgeous and enviable Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland. I want to go there so badly! I NEED to go there. So many ancient books, the majestic architecture, and to know it was the haunt of so many people whom I admire.