Some time ago I watched a UN webinar on the power of art for peace and conflict resolution. One of the panellists, Lily Yeh, who founded the Barefoot Artists organisation, works with disadvantaged communities across the world, supporting them to create artworks and beautiful spaces within their local communities.
I wrote down some of the things she said:
'Creativity and beauty are powerful means to bring about healing and change'
'Art has the power to transform public space, to transform individuals'
' When we see beauty, we see hope' (Rwandan genocide survivor).
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Beauty isn't a luxury add-on, but a necessity. Along with kindness, peace, compassion and joy, the ability to recognise and celebrate beauty in all its forms, in nature, art, colour, music, inspiring architecture, the face of our beloved, is a mark of our inner divinity, our humanity, and our unity.
This is why extremists of all types always set out to ban or destroy things that are beautiful. They are too much of a threat to their nihilistic agenda. As essential as beauty, and intimately connected with it, is imagination. I think it was Einstein who said that 'Imagination is Everything'. Without imagination we can't put ourselves in someone else's shoes, or feel compassion, (including compassion for terrorists). We can't forgive others, or ourselves. or look towards a hopeful and creative future.
Only new and imaginative responses will work to create a more peaceful world, otherwise we get locked into the old stories of fear, revenge and counter-attack, and the sad cycle perpetuates itself.
I feel more than ever now that honouring and encouraging the creative imagination in others, and recognising and creating beauty myself, is my own small, radical act of (peaceful) defiance and love for our beautiful, troubled world.
This post was originally written and published on a different site in November 2015.