Genre of the Week: The Beauty of What We’ll Never Know by Pico Iyer

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Take a few moments and ask yourselves these questions:

  1. What is beauty in your own terms? Is it what you look like, what you see, what you hear or feel, or is it based on a personal experience that you’ve encountered?
  2. What moment in your life was considered the most life-altering and how did this experience change you in a positive sense?
  3. What place (or person) would you like to see before you die? What about an activity or event?

These questions may be simple from the outside but have an important meaning when looking at them and ourselves more closely. We live in a society where we have a choice between two paths: one where we settle down, have a family, job, house and a set of friends to hang out with, talking about politics and sports and contributing to the good of the community. There is the other path, where you explore new places and experience new things that help you think about the beauty of the world and what it has to offer.

One can jump to conclusions and assume that Germans are wanderers of the world, travelling four or five times a year and exploring new areas, and Americans love to stay put and enjoy the local scenery- especially when looking at the younger generations starting with the ones born in the mid-1970s. However, when speaking from experience, I would go as far as saying that each of us have the urge of being a wandering family- having a partner and a child or two, while exploring both new places as well as our own surroundings.  It doesn’t matter what previous knowledge we have- if we have the urge to do something, we do it for a reason- for trying something new, experiencing the unexpected and lastly, being open about it.

And this is why we are looking at this Genre of the Week, entitled The Beauty We’ll Never Know, a TED Summit talk by Pico Iyer. Born of parents of Indian origin, who were both scholars of their time, Iyer was a Buddhist, born in Oxford, England in 1957,  and after having studied literature at the colleges of Eton, Oxford and Harvard, he started his career as a journalist at Time Magazine in 1982, before moving to Japan in 1992, having been married to a Japanese wife, Hiroko and settled down there, writing full time about life and his travels, while teaching on the side. He has written several British essays as well as those about Indian life, but has written several novels, including the famed Video Night in Khatmandu. He has done a lot of TED talks in the past five years about life and how we should take it for granted, as society has changed to a point where knowledge alone will not help in us understanding the process.

In this talk, he doesn’t talk about his experiences in Japan per se. That is only a side-dish. However, his theme of the talk deals with the way we should take in life and not worry about settling down and letting things happen, for after all, we learn something new every day, including all of the tiniest aspects that we don’t understand as a mainstream societal audience. Furthermore, there is beauty in everything we see, even if we don’t see it right away.   So have a look at the talk and think about the following aspects:

  1. Look at the environment around you and see it from outside the box. How beautiful is it? What aspects do you love about it? What would you like to do to make the environment even better?
  2. What things in life would you like to explore before you die? Could be things, people, places or the like.
  3. What holds you back from going out there boldly and learning something new?

Remember: The best knowledge is what we DON’T know.

For more on his work, please check out his webpage with details on his life as a British author of Indian descent, living in Japan and making the most of life. Pico has spoken many times at TED summits on many subjects. You can find this and other talks here.

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