While visiting the British Museum last week I was blown away by the collection of antiquities, especially the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon in Greece. Perfectly proportioned bodies and facial features are captured eternally in white marble without the slightest wrinkle or blemish. In a word, they are beautiful. The experience got me thinking about beautiful people.
|a detail on the Portland vase
As my kids were growing up, we would use the beautiful people as a form of code-speak to describe a persona that is all too prevalent. Even now I find it difficult to translate to black text on a white sheet. I’m not talking about the kind of physical beauty that is captured in the Elgin marbles, but a projected beauty that is merely an illusion. But, it is a beauty that can be much more disarming than the bodily perfection depicted on the Portland Vase.
The conversation would go something like this: ‘Dad . . . [insert name] . . . is one of the beautiful people . . . ‘ Enough said. We were instantly on the same page.
The beautiful people are part of an exclusive group that is acutely aware of who does and does not belong to it. It is possible to be physically beautiful and be excluded, just as it’s possible to be homely and well-entrenched in the group. A large part of a beautiful person’s identity comes form knowing which people are not beautiful people and separating themselves from them–preferably in a public way. Although beautiful people do interact with non-beautiful people, they tend to do so only superficially. If you’re not beautiful, you’re not included, less valued and everyone knows it. It’s the student with nowhere to eat in a middle school cafeteria with plenty of seats.
The beautiful people cling to the conviction that they are special because they are beautiful (or witty, wealthy, athletically skilled, or popular). Accordingly, their ideas, desires, needs and judgments carry more weight than those of a non-beautiful person. One of the greatest calamities that can befall a beautiful person is to lose their beautiful status. As a result, there is enormous pressure to do whatever is necessary to remain beautiful. The conscience of the crowd trumps the conscience of the individual. Invariably, this usually involves making a non-beautiful person feel bad about themselves and envious of those that are beautiful. After all, it is the contrast between the beautiful people and the rest of us that make the beautiful people special. C. S. Lewis said it well:
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having something more than the next man. We say that people are proud of being richer, or cleverer or better-looking than others. If everyone became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes your proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” (Mere Christianity, 8:104)
The social interactions of the beautiful people and non-beautiful people were illustrated in Lehi’s Dream. The beautiful people, who happened to be congregating in the great and spacious building, went to great lengths to persecute mock and ridicule those eating the fruit of the Tree of Life. Nephi later learned that the dream was describing the pride of the world (1 Nephi 11:36). It is a scene that has repeated itself in every social gathering since time began. I also find it interesting that, in his abridgment to the Book of Helaman, Moroni describes beautiful people tactics being used by the proud to persecute the humble. Finally, the Lord during his ministry was not embraced or included amongst the beautiful people; his lot was with sinners, publicans and harlots. He was not a beautiful person.
There is an innate desire within all of us to be one of the beautiful people because the clarion call of pride speaks so clearly to the natural man in us. Though the pride of the the beautiful people invariably meets it’s destruction, it creates no small mischief for the non-beautful and the humble they love to persecute. I’m so grateful to have kids that ARE NOT beautiful people. Yet they and I need to ever guard against being inducted into the group and feeling privileged, honored and comfortable because of being pronounced beautiful. Humility is the antidote. It invariably will make things rough, as the beautiful people then see you as a stepping stool to escalate their status.
Paradoxically, those that find themselves cast out from amongst the beautiful people, if they will humble themselves before God, and turn to Christ will become transformed by the Atonement ultimately to be come purified and perfected; far more beautiful than the Elgin marbles.