A Different Sort of Elitism

by Abiola Lapite | 10/21/96 5:00am

The time is nigh for a new elitism. The elitism I speak of is not of the political or social variety, but an elitism of the mind. Just as with human beings, not all thoughts and ways of life are equal, though they should all be considered in a fair-minded fashion. So many people fill their lives with ugliness and triviality, and then they wonder why they can find no good cause for living.

The new elitism of which I speak has a single guiding principle -- the only things which are worthy of attention in the world are things of beauty, and one should as much as possible keep oneself from ugly deeds and situations. When we turn our attentions to the arts and the pursuit of knowledge, when we turn our attentions inward, casting aside all those aspects of the world that keep us from our true selves, then we are truly happy.

There are all too many people walking the streets, complaining of feelings of emptiness. That this should be so is not surprising. Men, getting caught up in the need to make a living and to make a name for themselves in the world, forget what should be the true object of their attentions, and by so doing lose their way. But why should life be worth living if we get no real satisfaction from it?

Life is not about arriving at some desired end state. Life is not about reaching an ending. As Nietzsche would put it, life is a becoming, and the only men who can truly be happy are those who take this to heart. Such men take the pleasures each of their days have to offer. For the man of aesthetic sensibilities, whose eye and ear are attuned to the richness of nature, every day brings pleasant new thoughts and fresh emotions. Though he may be poor in the material sense, his life is full of riches of a far more valuable kind, and he knows a fulfillment that no BMW or law partnership can buy.

There are a million simple things which can gladden the heart of those who take the time to take notice of them. Dewdrops glittering like gems on a blade of grass. The soft sound of water rushing over dark green, moss covered rocks. In the distance, a lone farmer tending to his rice crop on a hillside terrace. All the seasons have their beauty. In the winter, the softly falling snow blankets the world in an ocean of quiet. Spring greets us with the fragrant scent of plum blossoms, and in the budding shoots we see all things renew themselves. Under the summer moon, a spider silently spins its web. In autumn a gentle breeze blows, and the morning fog envelopes the nearby hills in a white haze.

Even in the smallest of things there is something to learn and appreciate. The fresh greenness of young leaves, the sound of a cicada crying out amidst the forlorn grass, the red tinged clouds of sunset -- nature has a bountiful harvest to offer the attentive mind. When we turn our attentions from scheming and deceitfulness, and turn instead to an appreciation of the unselfish beauty of the world, we find peace with ourselves.

The beauties of life are not restricted to the gifts of nature. In the arts we find other sources of fulfillment. A good painting captures things about the world no words can express. To look at a work by Vermeer, or to consider Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, is to come as near to the divine as it is possible for men to come in this world. Chopin's music searches the heart of man in a way more profound than any psychoanalyst. In his music we hear every exquisite emotion revealed, from longing to regret to quiet happiness. Debussy's work is a palette of reds and violets, while Satie's "Gymnopedies" are summer rain, falling softly and filling the world with melancholy. In Bach we see the height of human invention, and in Beethoven the high peaks and low valleys of the human spirit. The gentle lyricism of Kawabata's book "Snow Country," and the haunting loneliness that pervades Soseki's "Kokoro," move the sensitive mind to great heights of feeling. Through the works of the masters we are able to grow in spirit.

"Days and months are travelers of eternity. So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of the years, spend every minutes of their lives traveling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who have died on the road. I myself have been tempted for a long time by the cloud-moving wind -- filled with a strong desire to wander." So Basho says in "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." It is good for man's spirit that he wander, and his voyage need not be of a literal nature. The truly wise man would do well by himself to travel the roads of beauty.