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2002-06-14 7:22 a.m.

Boris dyed his hair; the bowling alley painted their chairs.

After a brief conversation with two work–mates about their tattoos, I returned to my office and wrote the following:

Intellectuals argue about what is the definitive trait which separates humans from the other species on this planet. I have heard their speeches and dissertations numerous times, and each time they sing their convincing and well–thought–out songs I think, "Yes, I agree that is the one trait which makes us different"...until I hear the next speech or read the next impassioned article.

Today as I walked back from getting iced tea—right about the exact time I clumsily fumbled with my one free hand to open the door leading out of the cafeteria—it occurred to me that there was something special and unique about humans which had not been pointed out to me before in any university commencement speech, philosophy class, journal on human aesthetics, or wherever. In hindsight I can see I have had a hunch about this for some time now, but today it snapped into focus: We humans long to and endeavor to surround ourselves with beauty in a way which no other creature does. And by doing so, we have the potential and even the direction and magnitude to both convey and evoke passion in other humans.

I have heard it argued that these acts of beauty are at their deepest core self–focused or centripetal tendencies, actions based on one's own desires, benefiting only the viewer or the intended audience, but does this really matter? Even if the original motivation is selfish in nature, the end result is one of radiant sharing. The boy that casts the stone into the pond thinks of only the throwing (and possibly the splash), but the entire pond is alive with ripples that reach out to touch even the most distant and hidden shores.

And through our possibly mindful or possibly careless acts, beauty is available for many if not all to enjoy. Examples are so many that I can not imagine a reality where we do not take them for granted: Giving a gift is an act of beauty, since it is generally accepted that joy and smiles are beautiful to behold; making people laugh; sharing hospitality; decorating a house for your friend's surprise birthday party; painting a canvas or an old car; or tattooing one's skin. In each of these cases someone chooses to augment—enhance, beautify—their surroundings or their situation. How can one not marvel at the glorious vector—the direction and magnitude—of these deliberate acts of beauty?