The Art of Strengths Coaching

B is for People Who Create Beauty rather than Give In To Barbarism

There are many ways to react to difficult times. One approach is for people to create beauty rather than give in to barbarism. It is to show another way and give people hope.

Desmond Tutu, for example, believes it is important to do small things – as well as big things – that lift the spirit. Writing in The Impossible Will Take A Little While, Paul Rogat Loeb, describes how Tutu laughs and loves life. He wrote:

Tutu, like other social and political activists who haven’t forgotten the importance of enjoyment, passionately embraces the gifts placed before him. 

If it’s a gift of music, he will dance. If a gift of food, he will eat. If the company of friends, he will converse, laugh, and share stories. 

Such are the small but necessary pleasures that enable him to look evil in the eye and be confident that the fight must be fought.

For only someone who knows how good life can be is in a position to appreciate what’s at stake when life is degraded or destroyed.


During the 1970s and 80s I visited many people who were planting seeds of hope during challenging times. These included educators, social entrepreneurs and ethical business people.

They aimed to create inspiring classrooms, pioneering organisations, beautiful books or other things. Different people chose different ways to take this route, but virtually all of followed the principle described by Martin Luther King. He said: 

Anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Maria Popova aims to encourage the positive spirit in people. She grew up in Bulgaria before leaving for the United States and creating the website Brain Pickings. This aims to pass on knowledge that enables people to be creative and shape their future lives.

In one article Maria reflected on the lessons she had learned during her time writing the blog. These included the following tips for maintaining your own spirit during challenging times. You can discover more via the following link.

Be generous

Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator.

Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued.

To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.

Build pockets of stillness into your life

Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming and even boredom. 

The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations.  

Most important, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm and even mediates our negative moods.  

Presence is far more intricate and
rewarding an art than productivity

Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that.

The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time

This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy.  

The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning.  

The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny. 

Don’t be afraid to be an idealist 

E.B. White, one of our last great idealists, was eternally right when he asserted half a century ago that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down” – a role each of us is called to with increasing urgency, whatever cog we may be in the machinery of society.  

Seek out what magnifies your spirit  

Patti Smith, in discussing William Blake and her creative influences, talks about writers and artists who magnified her spirit – it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion.  

Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

Maya Angelou inspired many people in her life and encouraged them to believe in the power of the human spirit. In the video below she describes some elements behind her poem Still I Rise. She then goes on to recite the poem.

Piero Ferrucci is a psychotherapist who has spent much of his life supporting the positive spirit in people. His books include The Power of Kindness and Beauty and the Soul. You can discover more about his work via the following link.

People who show kindness are, in some ways, also helping to share beauty. Piero explains:

However special it may sound it (kindness) is by no means exceptional. On the contrary, it comprises a great deal of human interactions.

The fabric of our lives is made of care, solidarity, mutual service. These qualities are so embedded in our daily events that we may not even notice them.

Piero believes that kindness may be the main way to help both present and future generations. Looking at our relationship with the planet, he says:

Kindness is urgent in our relationship with our living environment. If we do not respect and love nature, do not treat her with loving kindness and the awe she deserves, we will end up intoxicated by our own poisons.

It is up to us. It is a choice in the life of each of us – to take the way of selfishness and abuse, or the way of solidarity and kindness. In this exciting but dangerous moment of human history, kindness is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Being kind is taking a stand. By itself it may not help: Maybe our kindness will be ineffective … Never mind. We have affirmed a principle, a way of being.

My thesis is that true kindness is a strong, genuine, warm way of being … Kindness itself may seem lightweight, and yet it is a central factor in our lives. It has a surprising power to transform us, perhaps more than any other attitude or technique.


Beauty can help us to heal, feel alive and open our eyes, says Piero in Beauty and the Soul. It can help us to reconnect with our feelings, connect with other people and discover new dimensions.

Beauty is more than an extra, says Piero. It is a basic necessity of life. He says:

All of us, in one way or another, seek beauty. We know it brings happiness and wellbeing.

Some manage to see the inner beauty of people: generosity, intelligence, honesty. It is a beauty less evident, but deeper and more lasting.

Beauty, then, brings us back to the here and now. In the presence of beauty it is harder to be distracted. To follow the way of beauty means to live in a state of mindfulness that does not admit distraction or escape.

We are here with our whole being. This is our kairos, as it was called in ancient Greece: The moment of opportunity, the timeless instant when revelation comes.

Beauty is the perfect medicine, says Piero. Its side effects are positive, rather than negative. This is certainly true when it comes to people. He writes:

Moral beauty is alive and well. In fact both kinds of beauty exist – outer and inner. The former is more obvious, more likely to attract attention, more immediate, gratifying and short-term.

The latter is subtler, deeper, usually needs more time to be perceived. And often it is not fully disclosed to the distracted eye. Physical beauty is a sprinter – it covers short distances faster. Beauty of the soul is a marathoner – it shows up over long distance.

Piero writes like a poet, but he supports this with facts. The book describes many studies showing the tangible benefits of beauty in schools, hospitals, work places and society. Beauty nourishes the soul. But it may also be necessary for our survival as a species.

Paul Rogat Loeb says: “Hope is a way of looking at the world.” Writing in The Impossible Will Take A Little While, he says that one person’s actions can inspire others. He writes:

Even in a seemingly futile moment or losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire another, and that person yet a third, who could go on and change the world, or at least a corner of it. Mandela called this process:

The multiplication of courage.

We live in a contradictory world. Dispiriting events coincide with progress for human dignity. But when change occurs, it’s because people persist, whatever the nature of their causes.

“The world gets worse. It also gets better,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her wonderful essay Acts of Hope. Change comes, Solnit argues:

“Not by magic, but by the incremental effects of countless acts of courage, love, and commitment, the small drops that wear away stones and carve new landscapes, and sometimes by torrents of popular will that change the world suddenly.”

You will have your own way of encouraging people during challenging times. One approach is to try to create beautiful things in your life and work.

Different people take this step in different ways. They may aim to cook lovely food, create an inspiring classroom, pass on knowledge that enables people to shape their futures or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific beautiful thing that you can try to create that may give people hope.

Describe the specific things you can do to take these steps. 

Describe the specific benefits of creating the beautiful thing that gives people hope.




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