Truth,Beauty, and Goodness Gardnerhas many accurate definitions for the terms Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. Thenovel Return to Laughter, by ElenoreSmith Bowen, does well in showing the complications of the definitions oftruth, beauty, and goodness, and reveals the struggle of applying the samedefinitions to very obviously different groups of people. One person’s truthcan be a huge struggle for another to accept, one person’s form of beauty canbe misinterpreted if seen by a different perspective, and one person’s goodnesscould be a morally right but seen as something morally wrong. Theanthropologist’s introduction to this African society shows the very differentforms of truth, beauty, and goodness as seen by two societies that have verylittle in common other than the fact that they are all humans. Personally, I seetruth, beauty, and goodness as concepts that are meant to be adaptive.
In orderto understand the ideas and ideals of others we must allow “wiggle room” in ourdefinitions to account for our many human differences. Truthis about the accuracy of statements and propositions and whether or not theyare accurate (Gardner). A convergence of methods of investigation should allpoint 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 knowledgeincreases, so is truth ever really certain? The issue with truth is that oftenit can be something someone personally believes.
If you compare a Christian andAtheist, their truths when it comes to deities, are very different things. Truthcan 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, theanthropologist, state very different reasons behind the lights that are presentin the sky above their village. Red Woman states that “tonight had been anunusual opportunity, yet what had I learned? That certain lights werewitchcraft; that people feared witchcraft; that the chief was the person to dealwith witches, … No matter how deep I went, there would always be somethingunderneath” (p.
43) While she can understand the lights she sees as somethingnatural and explain it using science, the natives are convinced that witchcraftis involved because the science aspect eludes them and does not follow theirtruth. Red Woman could never fully understand the thought process of thenatives because their whole lives revolved around beliefs she did not share in.Gettinginto some of the more complicated situations, Red Women comes across deathwithin this society. She sees one of the villagers, Poorgbilin’s wife, on theirdeath bed and wants to help as much as she can. Her truth is that when you seesomeone in that kind of pain, you do something about, you bring them to ahospital or you give them medicine, or you do something. The villagers,however, did nothing. They let her rest in her last days instead of puttingunwanted stress and worry on her. The only thing they stated about it was “Shewill 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 thedying member to live their last days in the presence of people and places thatare 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. Anotherbig dilemma is involving disease (p. 246 – 248). To the anthropologist, thedisease small pox is something easily explained by science and is somethingable to be cured through medicine, because of her vaccinations, Red Woman doesnot fall under the effects of the sickness. The natives, however, have adifferent explanation for her avoidance of the disease. Everyone who falls illare normal people, but those who walk around in the presence of the disease andare not affected must have some sort of witchcraft in them.
While there is asimple explanation for this misunderstanding, it does no change the beliefs ofeither side. Truth is a difficult subject to broach, there are so manydifferent views and beliefs that there is no possible way that everyone’struths will ever line up. Beautyis the quality of a form that creates profound interest and / or pleasure in aperson 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.
RedWoman and the natives she is around her have very different views on thingsthat are beautiful. Red Woman sees scars as a reminder of something painful, ora symbol of something imperfect. To her scars have no business being calledbeautiful.
The natives have a very different view of this however. The nativespurposefully scar themselves because of the beauty they see in it. To them issignifies something beautiful and not something terrible like pain. These viewsare very different from each other, and yet both sides have very real reasonsfor believing what they do. “All of them were elaborately scarred, and the moredistinctive patterns of scarification proved the most reliable means ofidentification” (p. 15). Where the natives see beauty on their scars, Red Womanonly sees a way of identification rather than the beauty the natives mean forthe scars to symbolize.
During a wedding we get to see Red Woman becomeappreciative of the beauty of the art the natives produce. “My feet lost timeas I began to consider possible translations of songs that, if put into equallyvernacular English, would seem unpublishable” (p. 124). In this instance, RedWoman was able to appreciate the beauty of the natives. She listens to thenative’s songs and loses herself in the music and is able to see the beauty inmusic that comes from a different society. The thing about beauty is thatanyone person can find beauty in so many different things. Personal experienceis something that allows us to interpret beauty in all its different forms. Goodnessis about the quality of relationships among human beings (Gardner).
Christian Goodness specifically flowsout of the quality of relationships that seeks the wellbeing of all people.Loving God above everything and loving others in ways that seek their welfarefirst in just institutions. In our society we see the term goodness inreference 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 societygoodness comes from surrounding yourself with many people, this includesmultiple wives. When this issue is brought up, Red Woman gets frustrated withthe views of the natives, she cannot understand how these people can find thegoodness in allowing their hearts the freedom of loving many women. The otherpeople in the village criticize Poorgbilin, who is losing the woman he reallycares about and forgetting the rest of his family.
“Poorgbilin’s heart clingsto that woman. We have told him that he has other people, other wives andchildren…. It is wrong for a man to set his heart on one woman” (p.
154) WhilePoorgbilin’s action would seem extremely normal in Red Woman’s society, in hisown it is bizarre and completely out of the ordinary. The natives do not seethis as good even if Red Woman does see the goodness. When Red Woman decided toput 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 aboutme, penning me into the corner… Nauseated and half fait I leaned against thewall. I called for my boys” (p. 20-21). The natives make the assumption thatRed Woman finds the same goodness in the world that they do.
They see thepresence of so many people as a good thing, and yet the goodness they try toshow is too overwhelming for her to understand. Instead, because Red Woman isused to a society where people allow for privacy and solitude, she reacts outof fear because the goodness she wants and is used to is not the same for thevillagers.Truth,Beauty, and Goodness are all interconnected and have a certain amount ofweigh-in on the others. Truth relates to goodness in that it is always conveyed& used within human relationships. Goodness relates to truth in that moralrelationships require truth telling. Beauty is connected to goodness when formsare used for moral purposes. Overall, I do not think we have the ability toreally know truth, beauty, and goodness. As individuals we have the ability tocreate our own version of each of these, however applying person definitions tolarger societies can prove difficult.
As we discussed in class, people withdifferent backgrounds and professions apply truth, beauty, and goodness verydifferently. While Gardner has very well thought out definitions, they cannotpossibly apply to every single situation. Many situations requireinterpretation as not everything is as black and white as we would hope.