Monday, March 6, 2017

Progress, and Beauty

Progress is great. It is the essence of what life is about. Improving. Getting better. I type this out on a thin, light weight miracle device unimaginable a generation ago. Soon, My wife will drive to work in an automobile with more computer power than the one that powered the first moon landing. Of course, not everything that marches under the banner of progress is, necessarily. But, for the most part, given a choice between a world of innovation and a world without it, I'm good with progress.

What got me to thinking about this was the oddest thing. A couple of days ago, I developed what has turned out to be a gigantic zit...on my middle finger, of all places. Stay with me now. Don't worry, there will be no pictures. This thing is huge and menacing, with the power to escalate the act of flipping someone the bird to the level of assault with a deadly weapon. I don't know what leprosy looks like, but it can't be any uglier than this baby. All of this has brought back memories of my acne-scarred youth...which got me to thinking about progress.

When I was growing up in the 60's, my parents didn't have much money. But we were no different than most of my friends. They didn't seem to have a lot either. As a result, there wasn't much money lying around for spending on stuff like orthodontia or dermatology. If you were born with crooked teeth or acne, well, that was just your lot in life. The recommended remedies were, "wash your face more", and "floss harder!"  The entire time I was growing up, I don't remember a single friend of mine getting braces. I had world class acne back in the day. It was brutal and left me with a pock marked face which my wife insists rendered me ruggedly handsome. But to those not blinded by love, a few have actually asked me why I don't have the scars worked on. Same goes with crooked teeth. "You know, they make these clear braces now...for adults!"

When my kids came along, at the first sign of acne or crooked teeth, an appointment was made with a wildly overpriced dermatologist, a session was scheduled with the orthodontist with the colorful mural in the gigantic waiting room. A second thought was not even entertained about the cost. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret doing this, and I'm sure my kids are grateful. But it leaves me with a few nagging questions.

Yesterday at church the pastor made a statement about how over the last fifty years or so people have become much less concerned about their souls than their bodies. It's hard to deny. Just look at the amount of money we spend on doing away with even the smallest flaw in our appearance. We spend billions annually on tummy tucks, face lifts, butt lifts, breast implants, hair implants, braces, eye jobs, nose jobs, gym memberships, steroid regimens, diets, makeovers of every description. We all are chasing that perfect look...for a body that is in the process of dying and ultimately will return to the dust. Is this progress? Does becoming prettier make us better? Well, if statistics are to be believed, it may make us more hireable, and more likely to advance at work, such is the shallowness to which we have descended. But, does it make us better people?

I don't begrudge anyone trying to be their best. But, I would rather live in a world with compassionate, generous, and big-hearted people who might be a bit overweight, acne-scarred, with a few extra lines on their faces, than a world with perfectly sculpted Barbee and Ken dolls constantly checking themselves out in the mirror.

The old saying is only skin deep. Discarding that truth isn't progress.