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August 18, 2010

Beauty and love are disappearing from our lives

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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In their haste to achieve material progress as their top priority in life, human beings today have reduced the twin values of beauty and love to that of the opposite gender.

Todays rushed and competitive culture screams that it can no longer afford the permanence of beautiful buildings or the love of anything that takes time to nurture the spirit.

So what artifacts will our society leave behind for future generations to marvel at? It seems that all we are doing right now is filling every available three-dimensional space on planet Earth with the biggest and tallest piles of concrete we can build.

Our non-physical spaces are also becoming choked, with billions of criss-crossing e-mail messages, interactive web sites, cell phone conversations and text messaging, television and radio broadcasts.

Most of this invisibly travelling electronic clutter fills up our computer screens and headphones – demanding countless hours of our time every day – but is void of creativity, beauty, or craftsmanship.

How much uncluttered, noise-free space remains in our collective cultural and social fabric to nurture the creation of classics in any medium – music, literature, poetry, film, fine arts, dance, theatre -- that will truly withstand the test of time? Have we doomed our children and our children’s children to an unprecedented poverty of spirit?

Old traces of beauty are safeguarded by museums, displayed behind closed doors far away from the vast majority of people.

It seems that we no longer know even how to love, much less distinguish between loving and liking.

Inevitably, the once-valued currency of true human love has been debased to the single desire for sexual satisfaction, a desire accompanied by only the most superficial, self-centred and very temporary emotions.

To even contemplate spiritual love, or the love of that which is divine, Godly, even mysterious, is beyond the capability of most in our desensitized society.

Only religious mystics understand the rich discipline of this vanishing art.

And it’s no wonder that we have lost contact with the true and deep roots of love. Every day we can turn on the TV and see performers yelling to audiences (real and virtual) full of strangers, “I love you!”

If commercial messages are any indication, our disconnected society finds it much easier to lavish more individual affection on our dogs and cats than on our neighbour’s noisy children, who may in fact be receiving less direct human interaction than most household pets.

These are only a few trends that illustrate how one-dimensional our understanding of love has become, whether it is focused on our spouses, our children, our extended families, our friends, or even our country.

But many of us seem to have no trouble “loving” our jobs; the higher the pay, the more we claim to love them. This is because monetary and material gains have become our chief measuring stick for life-satisfaction.

There is little room left to contemplate the words of a wise man who once said that when one knows God well, one cannot help falling into the embrace of divine love which fills the believer’s entire life.

Our love for sports has been exploited by the phenomenon of ultra-commercialized competition.

In Japan, individual Sumo wrestlers are fed far beyond the needs of several normal human beings and inevitably die of obesity-related ailments at a young age.

In countries like Spain and Portugal, bulls provoked to aggression by humans in the arena and left bleeding to death for the pleasure of cheering crowds, who “love” such brutal entertainment.

At the Olympics young athletes under intense pressure to win at all costs, drug themselves to excel.

In Canada, hockey players seem to do more on-ice fighting than playing and sometimes the final score is death. And in another dubious “sport,” women wrestle one another in a muddy arena with little point to the exercise but the grossness of it all.

It is sad, but true. You can travel to any so-called modern city in the world today and see ugliness everywhere. The urban landscape may be efficient, compact and convenient, but up close it is also crowded and ugly. No wonder sales of anti-depressant drugs are on the rise.

By choice we are living in expensive prisons devoid of beauty and love. We have become underdeveloped humans and do not even know it; worse, we do not care. We have lost – in fact, thrown away -- the holistic view of life.

Stores may sell numerous beauty products today, but where could you ever buy the Beauty of the Divine? We have all but lost our human spiritual receptors to appreciate Divine beauty.

At home and school our children are rarely exposed to the essential twin values of beauty and love. In Western culture, it is acceptable to hug and kiss between opposite sexes, but not openly between those of the same sex. Unfortunately, hugging and kissing young children (other than one’s own) is looked upon with suspicion.

And don’t look to our universities for any better news. The classical philosophies and ethics upon which higher learning was once built have been discarded in favor of a mission to teach only those skills needed to be financially successful in the globalized workplace. There is no curriculum time available for nourishing the unrecognized hunger for beauty and love in young minds.

If we continue to discard the values of love and beauty in our society, we all lose.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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