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Principles from Plutarch (3) – Aesthetics and Neatness

Last week I wrote about the importance of creating and maintaining an orderly environment by having clear expectations and consistently enforcing those expectations. This week I am going to continue on that theme by discussing the importance of aesthetics and neatness.

In dealing with captured pirates, Pompey came to the following conclusion. “Wisely weighing with himself that man by nature is not a wild or unsocial creature, neither was he born so, but makes himself what he naturally is not by vicious habit; and that again, on the other side, he is civilized and grows gentle by a change of place, occupation, and manner of life, as beasts themselves that are wild by nature become tame and tractable by housing and gentler usage, upon this consideration he determined to translate these pirates from sea to land, and give them a taste of an honest and innocent course of life by living in towns and tilling the ground.”

Pompey lacked both a Biblical notion of man’s nature and sinful condition; for this reason we should not completely embrace his understanding. That being said, Pompey understood that environment matters. The aesthetics in our classrooms and homes matter. Their neatness matters. The tone and approach we take matters. A plain classroom or one with kitsch art communicates that beauty is not important; an untidy home communicates that a poor effort is tolerable. Our actions speak louder than our words and we cannot expect our students and children to appreciate acts and works of beauty if our actions show that we don’t; we can’t expect them to take the extra time to write neatly and organize their work if our rooms are littered and disorganized.

Working the soil reformed and civilized marauding pirates. In the same way, living and working in a place of beauty and tidiness (and even better yet, asking our children to take a sense of ownership and to contribute to the beauty and cleanliness of their environment) will likewise influence their approach to their work in ways that will often outweigh the words we use.

Now before you feel guilty please keep in mind that I have five children and I often do not have the time or energy to tidy up a single room, let alone my whole house. I often feel like I am fighting in vain on behalf of civilization against a wave of barbarism when I try to keep my house clean and organized. So please take this all as an ideal, as something we should be moving towards, not as something we should all expect to perfectly attain!