Observing, Versus Consuming, Beauty

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.

~ Robert Heinlein ~ (from Stranger in a Strange Land)

It is possible to love another person, a stranger, so intensely as to be evidence of the validity of the words Heinlein wrote. That reality came to me quite some time ago from an image—not sure whether it was a photo or a video—of two very young children, a boy and a girl. They were young brother and older sister whose parents had been killed in a warlike conflict. They huddled together in front of their utterly destroyed home, crying. It was obvious from the words of the announcer or narrator that they had nowhere to go and no one to look after them. I remember feeling such intense compassion for those children. I loved them. And I felt I could never be happy until I knew they were safe and happy and had a good chance at a tolerable future. That love either dissolved over time or it became less intense.  I no longer need their happiness to ensure mine. But when I think of them, my gut tenses and I feel that original pain I felt when I saw them.

So, what does that tell me? Love changes. It evolves or matures or ripens or whatever else one might say happens to it. It is different one year in from ten years in from forty years in. It can grow enormously, from a tiny seed to an enormously large tree. Other seeds can grow, too. Some of them flourish over time. Some twigs and larger limbs break off and fall to the ground to decay. The product of some seeds grows unruly and must be trimmed or cut down.

It tells me, too, that love differs from person to person and context to context. Love can be that towering oak or that tall and slender pine. It can be an annual or a perennial. It can perish from too little water or too much heat. Its presence is sometimes announced by the startling aroma from its flowers or by the soft scent of its sage leaves. I am rambling again, as I am wont to do. I’ll stop. At least I’ll move on to another thought.


A fierce tension exists between seeking to minimize one’s possessions and wanting the joy “possessions” bring. That tension once was far less than it is today. What once was a modest strain—the same sort of strain between equal masses on a double-pan balance scale—is now a vicious pull. Thanks in large part to the successes of advertising and marketing, the force of weight on one side of the balance has grown many times over. Advertising and marketing have transformed us into consumers of beauty, rather than observers of that beauty. When I say “beauty,” I mean the bounties of life, both experiential and palpable. There is an enormous difference between consumption and observation. As consumers, we are not satisfied until we actually have objects of beauty in our possession. As observers, we embrace the beauty delivered to our senses, without feeling a need to own it. Observers visit a National Park. Consumers purchase the land for exclusive use.

The possibilities of migrating from an economy based on owning to one based on sharing are limitless.

~ Jay Samit ~

I contend that we would be happier people, in general, if we were to reject the notions implanted in our brains by advertisers and marketers. We could be far happier—requiring far less money and all the other trappings of wealth—if we simply accepted the principle that ownership is onerous but sharing is sweet. That is just hokey tripe, of course, but the idea is valid. The challenges of ownership/consumption are far greater than those of experience/observation. Essentially, ownership is private and personal and rife with responsibilities, whereas experience allows private and personal engagement but with limited, shared responsibilities. I’m wandering off into a subject that is too easily misunderstood. And I am insufficiently capable of explaining it well enough to ensure I will not be misunderstood; so, I will leave it here for a reader to ponder and, I hope comment about consumption versus observation.

But before I go, I will return to a related topic I find compelling: co-housing. Co-housing allows participants (co-owners who share both the responsibilities of consumption and the benefits of observation) to experience communal life in a way that maintains both their privacy and their control. Co-housing involves each housing-unit individual/family owning private (stand-alone, single family property if desired) housing, along with shared ownership of common properties/facilities. I think co-housing, while just sticking one’s toes into observation versus consumption, might be among the best ways to introduce ourselves to the benefits and values of sharing and observation-based enjoyment, instead of tight ownership and control.  This is rich, isn’t it, coming from a guy who has just put his privately-owned house on the market, after having purchased another privately-owned house. I feel more than slightly hypocritical for promoting a concept I have not personally experienced.


Speaking of hypocrisy, yesterday I officially signed the papers to put my house on the market. I suspect it will go on MLS, Zillow, and Realtor within the next day or two. Though the market seems to have slowed slightly (or, possibly, more than slightly) in the Village, there’s still considerable demand for housing here. Whether that demand extends to a house like mine, in the price range attached to it, remains to be seen. I hope I discover, quite soon, that there is, indeed, such a demand. If not, I have the wherewithal necessary to wait until my supply meets the appropriate level of demand. I wonder whether there is an economic model that embraces the best compassionate elements of communism (lower case “c”) and the most practical and pragmatic elements of capitalism (lower case “c” again)? Democratic Socialism, a term applied to a mix of political/social and economic theories, is too divisive (and probably inaccurate). Perhaps I’ll coin my own term for a new philosophy that would describe the society in which I would like to live. And the one I believe would be most satisfactory to the most people. Except the supremely greedy and the insufferably lazy. And a few other rotten people who I would tend to label something other than “human.” But I’m going off-track again, am I not? I am.


I need to get my hands on a software application that mimics Adobe Photoshop but at a fraction of the price (I purchased and used Photoshop when had my business, but have long since forgotten how to use it…and I recall it being too expensive for personal use).  And I used the software to create the header for this blog. I need to replace the header, but I need to get my hands on something like Photoshop to create the graphic. I still have the same hat and the same sweater, but I wear different glasses now. And I have a moustache and a scraggly beard with a mix of light-brown and grey whiskers. Frankly, the facial hair looks much better than I expected it would. Although, to be entirely honest, I still think my “beard” looks like my facial follicles haven’t quite matured out of adolescence. I’m an old teenager, facial-hair-wise. Anyway, it’s time for a blog-lift. Maybe. But not until I’ve moved and my life is considerably more settled.


We cannot force ourselves to love—or to withhold it. At best, we can curb our actions. The heart itself is beyond control. That is its power, and its weakness.

~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni ~ (Palace of Illusions)


And with that, I’ll return to the real world of Thursday morning, when I will await a screen-repair guy and do other worldly things.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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