Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Gardner has many accurate

Truth,
Beauty, and Goodness

Gardner
has many accurate definitions for the terms Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. The
novel Return to Laughter, by Elenore
Smith Bowen, does well in showing the complications of the definitions of
truth, beauty, and goodness, and reveals the struggle of applying the same
definitions to very obviously different groups of people. One person’s truth
can be a huge struggle for another to accept, one person’s form of beauty can
be misinterpreted if seen by a different perspective, and one person’s goodness
could be a morally right but seen as something morally wrong. The
anthropologist’s introduction to this African society shows the very different
forms of truth, beauty, and goodness as seen by two societies that have very
little in common other than the fact that they are all humans. Personally, I see
truth, beauty, and goodness as concepts that are meant to be adaptive. In order
to understand the ideas and ideals of others we must allow “wiggle room” in our
definitions to account for our many human differences.

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Truth
is about the accuracy of statements and propositions and whether or not they
are accurate (Gardner). A convergence of methods of investigation should all
point to the same reality / truth. Facts can be described as a sort of truth,
something that is indisputable, and yet, facts evolve and change as knowledge
increases, so is truth ever really certain? The issue with truth is that often
it can be something someone personally believes. If you compare a Christian and
Atheist, their truths when it comes to deities, are very different things. Truth
can not only come from within a person, but from science and philosophy as well.
In a simple example, at one point is the story, the natives and Red Women, the
anthropologist, state very different reasons behind the lights that are present
in the sky above their village. Red Woman states that “tonight had been an
unusual opportunity, yet what had I learned? That certain lights were
witchcraft; that people feared witchcraft; that the chief was the person to deal
with witches, … No matter how deep I went, there would always be something
underneath” (p. 43) While she can understand the lights she sees as something
natural and explain it using science, the natives are convinced that witchcraft
is involved because the science aspect eludes them and does not follow their
truth. Red Woman could never fully understand the thought process of the
natives because their whole lives revolved around beliefs she did not share in.

Getting
into some of the more complicated situations, Red Women comes across death
within this society. She sees one of the villagers, Poorgbilin’s wife, on their
death bed and wants to help as much as she can. Her truth is that when you see
someone in that kind of pain, you do something about, you bring them to a
hospital or you give them medicine, or you do something. The villagers,
however, did nothing. They let her rest in her last days instead of putting
unwanted stress and worry on her. The only thing they stated about it was “She
will die” (p. 154) and this was said without emotion or worry, just as a fact.
To them the truth of the matter was that in the case of death you allow the
dying member to live their last days in the presence of people and places that
are both familiar and comfortable, Red Woman’s truth was in conflict of theirs,
but each had an equal amount of relevance to the person believing it. Another
big dilemma is involving disease (p. 246 – 248). To the anthropologist, the
disease small pox is something easily explained by science and is something
able to be cured through medicine, because of her vaccinations, Red Woman does
not fall under the effects of the sickness. The natives, however, have a
different explanation for her avoidance of the disease. Everyone who falls ill
are normal people, but those who walk around in the presence of the disease and
are not affected must have some sort of witchcraft in them. While there is a
simple explanation for this misunderstanding, it does no change the beliefs of
either side. Truth is a difficult subject to broach, there are so many
different views and beliefs that there is no possible way that everyone’s
truths will ever line up.

Beauty
is the quality of a form that creates profound interest and / or pleasure in a
person observing / experience it (Gardner). To me, beauty is something that,
often times, is based on the individual. It is in the eyes of the beholder. Red
Woman and the natives she is around her have very different views on things
that are beautiful. Red Woman sees scars as a reminder of something painful, or
a symbol of something imperfect. To her scars have no business being called
beautiful. The natives have a very different view of this however. The natives
purposefully scar themselves because of the beauty they see in it. To them is
signifies something beautiful and not something terrible like pain. These views
are very different from each other, and yet both sides have very real reasons
for believing what they do. “All of them were elaborately scarred, and the more
distinctive patterns of scarification proved the most reliable means of
identification” (p. 15). Where the natives see beauty on their scars, Red Woman
only sees a way of identification rather than the beauty the natives mean for
the scars to symbolize. During a wedding we get to see Red Woman become
appreciative of the beauty of the art the natives produce. “My feet lost time
as I began to consider possible translations of songs that, if put into equally
vernacular English, would seem unpublishable” (p. 124). In this instance, Red
Woman was able to appreciate the beauty of the natives. She listens to the
native’s songs and loses herself in the music and is able to see the beauty in
music that comes from a different society. The thing about beauty is that
anyone person can find beauty in so many different things. Personal experience
is something that allows us to interpret beauty in all its different forms.

Goodness
is about the quality of relationships among human beings (Gardner). Christian Goodness specifically flows
out of the quality of relationships that seeks the wellbeing of all people.
Loving God above everything and loving others in ways that seek their welfare
first in just institutions. In our society we see the term goodness in
reference to marriage as one woman and one man that are faithful to each other,
this is how Red Woman approaches goodness as well. In the native’s society
goodness comes from surrounding yourself with many people, this includes
multiple wives. When this issue is brought up, Red Woman gets frustrated with
the views of the natives, she cannot understand how these people can find the
goodness in allowing their hearts the freedom of loving many women. The other
people in the village criticize Poorgbilin, who is losing the woman he really
cares about and forgetting the rest of his family. “Poorgbilin’s heart clings
to that woman. We have told him that he has other people, other wives and
children…. It is wrong for a man to set his heart on one woman” (p. 154) While
Poorgbilin’s action would seem extremely normal in Red Woman’s society, in his
own it is bizarre and completely out of the ordinary. The natives do not see
this as good even if Red Woman does see the goodness. When Red Woman decided to
put herself out there in order to come into contact with more of the natives,
the reaction they had was not quite what she expected. “They surged forward,
laughing, shouting. Cheerfully in the friendliest fashion, they swarmed about
me, penning me into the corner… Nauseated and half fait I leaned against the
wall. I called for my boys” (p. 20-21). The natives make the assumption that
Red Woman finds the same goodness in the world that they do. They see the
presence of so many people as a good thing, and yet the goodness they try to
show is too overwhelming for her to understand. Instead, because Red Woman is
used to a society where people allow for privacy and solitude, she reacts out
of fear because the goodness she wants and is used to is not the same for the
villagers.

Truth,
Beauty, and Goodness are all interconnected and have a certain amount of
weigh-in on the others. Truth relates to goodness in that it is always conveyed
& used within human relationships. Goodness relates to truth in that moral
relationships require truth telling. Beauty is connected to goodness when forms
are used for moral purposes. Overall, I do not think we have the ability to
really know truth, beauty, and goodness. As individuals we have the ability to
create our own version of each of these, however applying person definitions to
larger societies can prove difficult. As we discussed in class, people with
different backgrounds and professions apply truth, beauty, and goodness very
differently. While Gardner has very well thought out definitions, they cannot
possibly apply to every single situation. Many situations require
interpretation as not everything is as black and white as we would hope.

 

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