I had lunch the other day with a marvellous friend of mine called Paul Dickinson. Paul is a very bright guy and founder of the Carbon Disclosure Project a great project that has for some years been encouraging large corporations to become more conscious of their CO2 emissions and general sustainability.
Paul has also written several books. We talked about one of these, Beautiful Corporations, published back in 2000. In it, Paul suggests that corporations should embrace beauty and style as a differentiator. And also as an antidote to all that is ugly in the world, including threats to our sustainability through climate change, for example.
I agree wholeheartedly with this idea.
You see, I think our fundamental problem is that many of us have forgotten the paradigm we live and work under. Since the Enlightenment we have steadily been forgetting that life is not a purely intellectual process.
Business is especially prone to this. Business focusses on ideas and thought. These are mental processes residing in the brain.
And the world is run by men, literally top heavy with their big brains (Gates? Buffet? Slim?). Business, and most other domains too, celebrates thought and intellectual achievement. So does our education system.
It’s true that sometimes emotion can get in the way of our our thought processes. If our brain is the tool we need to use, then reducing that emotional heat is probably a good thing.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust our emotional and feeling selves. At root we are just as much emotional beings as intellectual ones. We are whole, physical beings, much more than just a “brain on legs”.
Paul is therefore right that beauty is a key; the reason is that beauty helps us access our emotional and feeling side. Appreciating art and beauty is not an intellectual activity. Beauty goes straight to our emotional core. It thus helps us access and understand our real selves.
Most people (most men, and I speak as one) are crippled by and blind to their lack of emotional sensitivity. We think (!) we are not, because we are great thinkers. But we are blind to this lack. We think we are in charge of what we say and do.
Despite our current peril there’s real hope for the world I believe (I could say I feel, I know instinctively) because we can quickly wake up and come alive to the problems we face if we can get in touch with what we feel.
We cannot lie to ourselves about what we find to be beautiful. Nor can we lie to ourselves about what is right and true – in terms of life, and in terms of survival. Our non-thinking sides would not allow us to destroy ourselves. 10 million years of human evolution simply would not allow that.
But in my view it’s essential that we let our whole selves steer. Listening only to our thinking brains, however useful they are in some domains, is probably our greatest peril.