An Aesthetic View Of Morality

Our choices are not always as clear as right or wrong; we must sometimes choose between beauty and ugliness.

We often think of morality in terms of black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. This type of either/or thinking makes us feel better about the path we have chosen because it places us in a position of moral superiority to those who have made a different choice from us. We tell ourselves that we are on the righteous path and that others who believe or behave differently are on the path of evil and corruption.

We claim special knowledge with these kinds of distinctions. They are predicated on the belief that we have unique insight into the truth of things, giving us the ability to see beyond the lies and deceptions that others fall prey to so easily. Ours is authentic wisdom and only we are educated and inspired enough to know, to see, to hear, and to speak the truth, while all who do not believe as we do are necessarily either foolish, immoral, or both.

It is true that some beliefs and behaviors are undeniably more honorable, righteous, and just than their reprehensible, unethical, and despicable opposites. Quite often, however, this distinction has more to do with benevolent or malicious intent than anything else and most people, ourselves included, in spite of flawed beliefs and imperfect actions, do not actually want to do harm to others. We are far better off, instead of being the constant judge and jury of what is right and wrong, a position which is not only unhelpful, but also quite exhausting, looking at our own beliefs and behaviors, and asking ourselves in each moment whether, through them, we are adding more beauty or more ugliness to the world.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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