Can We Live Without Beauty?

I was recently in Japan, working on a project about rural agricultural communities. As we discussed issues of connection, relevance, and sustainability, someone asked the question “What can’t you live without?”  There was a silent pause as everyone in the room considered their response.  

Later that evening, that question re-entered my thoughts. It brought me, more than ten year ago, to a car ride with my daughter. “All You Need is Love” by The Beatles came on the radio.

When the chorus come on, "All you need is love," we added our own words – and air, food, water, education, and a place to live.

My daughter and I were pragmatic. The previous year, we had lived through Hurricane Katrina and the trauma still weighed heavily on our minds. We knew what it meant to be forced out of your home, without plans, without certainty. However, we were fortunate - we had resources to get us through. We also had LOVE - lots of it, from family, friends, and the beautiful residents of Houston, where we relocated. 

I do think that the Beatles were on to something - love is paramount. Perhaps, that is the foundation upon which we build a world where everyone access to a safe home, healthy food, clean water, a sustainable living wage, and good education and healthcare.  

At the same time - I can’t live without beauty. 

One pillar of my Beauty Manifesto is "Beauty is everywhere; find beauty, everyday." Japan is a country rich in beauty - natural, built, designed. What struck me most strongly were the small efforts to create beauty in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Simple “acts of beauty” transcend the everyday. They bring us to a place where we can flourish, find dignity, and connect with others. Everyday, I search for and acknowledge at least one thing of beauty. When I come across something that compels me to stop and admire, even for a moment, because of a unique characteristic or character (my definition of beauty), I am happier and more connected to my surroundings.

In the words of the 18th century writer, Stendhal, “Beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness.” (“La beauté n'est que la promesse du Bonheur.” De l'amour,1822)

Here are just a few beauty experiences from my travels in Japan.

Lunch at a small cafe - each meal was served on a tray with a small bud vase and flower.

An outdoor AC unit covered with plastic vines

Umbrella lockers at the Hasanuma Onsen in Tokyo

Fancy desserts in eggshells sold at the train station

Inspired by my surroundings, I reveled in the iridescent beauty of this urban pigeon

• • •

What can't you live without?


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