Barack Obama’s got it.
Ronald Reagan had it and so did JFK. George W. Bush, not so much.
Elegance. Like so many of the qualities that lead to lastingness, it can be hard to describe but is easy to identify.
The word elegant, in general, is an adjective meaning of fine quality. Refinement and simplicity are implied, rather than fussiness, or ostentation. Obama’s demeanor is sophisticated, yet humble; his turns of phrase intellectual, yet succinct. And then there is the willowy frame punctuated by the long, lean hands. According to hand analysts (yes, such a thing exists), long, narrow hands like the President’s are a common feature of artists, writers and thinkers. In other words, visionaries. People who create things that last.
An elegant solution, often referred to in disciplines such as mathematics, is one in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort. Engineers, for example, seek the solution with the least possible waste of materials and effort. Or, as the Elegant Solution Organization (yes, this also really exists) so elegantly puts it, “duct tape is not likely to be part of an elegant solution, unless, of course, the problem involves taping ducts.”
Nature is full of elegant solutions. In fact, this may be the clearest evidence of elegance as a driver of longevity. Nature’s best, most elegant solutions – those that are simple, effective, replicable, secure – literally result in the longevity of species. Branching networks – found in applications from leaves to lungs, from roots to rivers – are the most efficient way to deliver life-giving resources across broad surface areas. Spheres are the most efficient way to conserve surface area, minimizing resource requirements as well as vulnerability. Spherical forms are the building blocks of a very large number of long-lasting things, from insect eyes to galaxy formations.
Elegance helps us survive. And now it’s keeping the Obama White House alive for four more years. Here’s hoping those visionary hands build a beautiful legacy.