A few years ago I moved to a new and unfamiliar place. It was so vastly different in every way possible from where I’d just come, that I unexpectedly found myself experiencing intense culture shock.
In particular, I was affected by a less than attractive social behaviour. Many people in the community showed a profound lack of respect for their natural environment. On every neighbourhood walk, ramblers trail and nature path I explored, I found a constant stream of rubbish. Every type of litter shit you can imagine, embedded all over the landscape.
It was heartbreaking. It hurt my eyes, made me cringe, boiled my blood. Whilst there were local education initiatives, there seemed no change in awareness or behaviour. And in the meantime, for the duration of my stay, I needed to get over my culture shock and find a way to live in an ‘alien’ community with seemingly different values to mine.
One way I dealt with this was to set myself a challenge. To look beyond the trash mentality to find something beautiful in my surroundings. To seek out a little gem I could appreciate, every single day, no matter how small and insignificant this tiny detail may be. The lichen on a dead tree, the long line of a derelict building’s shadow, frost-crusted leaves in the gutter, or a wild mushroom reaching out of a pothole.
I documented my treasure hunt by sharing a photo a day on Instagram. This went on for over a year. The irony is that people drawn to the beauty in those images had no idea of the bigger picture outside of the margins of those little square boxes.
But it worked for me, as I started seeing beauty everywhere. And along the way, it taught me a few good things. I discovered that even in the worst of situations, I could find beauty amongst the cracks. If I was willing to look.
We can change the way we’re able to see the world if we make the effort to really see. To look beyond the superficial and the physical. And if we can’t find beauty in the whole of something, we can look for beauty in the parts.
Appreciating the beauty of imperfection affects how we experience the world. It can help us develop a clearer vision of ourselves, our relationships, and our work. This outlook is powerful enough to impact, and ultimately improve, the way we approach every aspect of our lives. It’s something worth striving for.
Too often people become self-conscious of physical flaws so they hide them. Or nervous of cultural differences, so they cast a prejudiced eye just to be safe.
But what if we can see the beauty in the different way that people of another culture greet each other, instead of just seeing its ‘foreignness’? What if we can face the ragged plea in a homeless person’s sad eyes, and acknowledge them with at least a smile, instead of looking away? What if we can revere what was gained and lost when seeing a jagged scar carved into someone’s body? And instead of recoiling or saying nothing, let them know that we admire them for the challenge they’ve faced?
We all have war stories we may be too shy to tell. We all have physical or emotional wounds from private battles fought. They’re a testament to our courage, resilience and achievement. They’re part of our beauty and we can share them with the world.
Similar to Kintsugi (the Japanese art of repairing and enhancing broken pottery with gold inlay), we have the opportunity to be enhanced by embracing the beauty of our imperfections.
Alan Moore advocates for using beauty not only as a philosophy, but also as a tool, a process, or a framework. His realm of interest is in making businesses more beautiful, by helping them to function according to a “higher order purpose”.
We can apply this to ourselves as individuals too, to make how we function a thing of beauty. In this case, our beauty is based on the values and principles we ascribe to, and the grace with which we approach each element of our days and our lives.
If we can craft our work and living practices from a different perspective — from a place of beauty, grace and love, instead of only monetary gain or ambition — then we also attract people who relate to this deeper purpose. People with their own imperfections, who will support us wholeheartedly, despite ours.
Yin to the subjective yang. Together these opposites create perspective, to support our learning and understanding. We need the coarse to appreciate the fine. We can seek fairness amongst repulsive things. We can be enchanted by the ordinary. We can fascinate despite our flaws.
It starts by opening our eyes to the imperfect beauty of the unrefined as much as the elegant, the mundane as much as the magnificent. We can learn to love the rough part of our journey as much as the smooth.
To find that beauty, we can live, love and give from that place of imperfect yet infinite potential which forms part of our human condition.
Take another look. Do you see?