Giving on the Right-Side of the Brain: Beauty = Truth

June 8, 2011 //

By CJ Callen

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” – Jon Keats

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” – Galileo Galilei

Once I took a night class on “drawing on the right-side of the brain” based on the book of the same title. The instructor asked us to draw a flower and so I dutifully conjured up from my head that lame representative image that I placed on paper. Next she placed a real flower on the table and talked to us about using our right brain to see the flower. I then drew a flower, capturing its intricate lines and its spirit – the real beauty of nature in front of me. I was startled; I can draw! I sometimes show people the “before and after” drawings and they cannot believe that the same person did both. Truth is stranger than fiction.

That was a powerful lesson about the difference between using the left brain (logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, looks at parts) and using the right brain (random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, sees the whole). Since then, I have let go to tap into my right-brain, which is oddly predominant given I am a trained lawyer (but not so odd given that I am also a daydreamer and student of philosophy). As a board member of a foundation with an unusual and explicit focus on process, I delight at the opportunities to put my right brain to use to engage in some right-brained philanthropy. Yes, that does exist and there even is a blog spot devoted to the subject

I would like to add to the conversation the notion of the art of philanthropy. I ask others to think of the promising possibilities that would emerge if philanthropy embraced right-brained approaches that are driven by aesthetics. And since truth is beauty, well, you can see where I am going.

For all that philanthropy is doing to help solve the world’s problems, it is set-up for failure if its “house of problem-solving” is not built on truth. My simple proposition is that using the right brain to see the true lines and complexity of everything – whether flower, social construct, or pressing social issue – is indispensable to forging real solutions. A strategy is really just a proposition and those are more likely to test well and seed solutions if firmly planted in the truth.

Now sometimes that truth might not be as beautiful as a flower but it will have its own beauty, sure enough. I always say that the one thing that inspires me is “beauty” and everything falls from that.

If philanthropy re-organizes itself on this principle by moving confidently into solidly right-brain territory and leading like artists inspired by beauty/truth, I can only imagine what fruits it/we might bare. If nothing else, it/we have nothing to lose in trying it on for size since the world is in dire need of saving. My wish: let philanthropy discover its own truth and beauty through deeper appreciation and valuation of all things right-brained.

At TWI we are having a board retreat this summer and now I have a new goal: working with my fellow board members and the TWI staff and leadership on ways that we as a foundation can model right-brained philanthropy.

If you’re interested, I will let you know how it goes. Oh heck, I will let you know anyway because it sounds like a good story worth telling.