We live in a world seemingly obsessed with identity and recognition, both real and manufactured, from our own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram profiles to the carefully cultivated and controlled public personas of celebrities and politicians (and the increasibly blurred lines between the two).
The idea of anonymity – of existing, and even creating and doing, without constantly being recognized for who we are or what we create and do – has become increasingly foreign over the past decade, and now, it seems, that being recognized for being or doing something is more important than actually being it or actually doing it.
As an introvert, I realize that I’m looking at this from the perspective of an outlier…an outsider…the other…whatever term you prefer to use for someone who lives somewhere outside the mainstream, but whatever you want to call me, I still think that beauty exits in spite of – and sometimes even because of – anonymity, whether it be an intentionally or unintentionally unknown person who has created something beautiful; an intentionally or unintentionally unknown person who has inspired something beautiful; or an intentionally or unintentionally unknown person who has done something beautiful.
Not knowing who built Stonehenge doesn’t make it any less impressive.
Not knowing who sculpted Winged Victory of Samothrace doesn’t make it any less inspiring.
Not knowing who wrote Everyman doesn’t make it any less enduring or important.
Not knowing the identity of the “dark lady” in Shakespeare’s sonnets doesn’t make them any less beautiful.
Not knowing the real name of street artist Banksy doesn’t make him and his work any less relevant.
Obviously, these are iconic examples (a prehistoric monument, a classical sculpture, a medieval morality play, a series of early modern poems, a contemporary social artist), but the concept is just as applicable to simple, anonymous acts of everyday generosity and kindness that each of us can offer the world: putting a quarter in a stranger’s meter before it expires, shoveling your neighbor’s walk before he gets up (or gets home), dropping a dollar in the charity jar on the counter at the corner store.
Just because someone doesn’t know who did something doesn’t mean that the gesture – or the thought behind it – is any less meaningful or appreciated, and in some ways, it’s actually more beautiful than any monument or sculpture or play or poem.
The person who shares these simple, anonymous acts of kindness and love is doing it because he or she loves the act of giving – and not the recognition it might bring – and that’s a beautiful thing.