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The startling truth about truth
And the naked eye of human selfhood
From the smog and grime of Melbourne’s inner city streets to the subtle aroma of freshly harvested sacks of rice along the dusty sidewalks of Nukualofa, Tonga, I’ve had, through work and circumstance, the privilege of soaking in the culturally eclectic world we live in. Amidst the potpourri of diverse sights, smells and sounds, lies the familiar elemental pursuit for truth - a quest just as relevant to the cashed up politician as it is to the soul-searching wayfarer. We are all seeking that definitive clarity on what we bring to life and what we take from it.
It is no surprise that the hunger for truth is insatiable in a world of human relations and rationalisations, where we remain aware and yet in semi-denial, that there is no universal truth and therefore no universal good. Because every utopia is built on someone else’s back, on someone else’s efforts or misfortune, a by-product of capitalism and its accompanying ethos of profit maximisation. But yet, for better or worse, we impress upon ourselves to strive for objectivity seeing it as a hallmark of impartiality.
However, ‘facts’ and the ‘truth’ aren’t the same thing, just as information isn’t illumination. Science, philosophy and religion, each operating on their respective truth-telling planes, gives us a story to account for reality, but none of these discourses truly gives us ourselves. These hallowed bodies of knowledge enrich us intellectually but leave us restlessly grappling with an emptiness within - a primal hunger to understand the self.
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And if that isn’t convoluted enough, we uphold curious morality codes, that lead us to mistake certainty and self-righteousness for truth. In true reactionary form, we remain ever ready to lash one another with our certitudes and righteousness, mistaking the lashing for the light of morality and nobility of truth-seeking.
So then what is truth?
In Maya Angelou’s lyrical meditation on truth, she asserts that an act of truth is a voice of resistance against the assault on nature so that we can realise the wonderment of the self and bask in its authentic glory.
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
Great poems speak to us with profound resonance because they demand that we lay bear our deepest truths onto the vast landscape of their metaphors — metaphors that remain tinged with a dose of mystery and malleability and yet remain refreshingly vivifying and clarifying.
For Angelou, there is a greater truth, one untainted by false satisfaction and uncorrupted by defined labels. A truth that lies beyond our conscious understanding of reality. But this truth form isn’t a concrete destination or state of mind that needs to be sought after. It is instead an inner reckoning that need not fully resolve, a dynamic contemplation that need not deliver a single static answer. It is always suspended and laced with a sense of arbitrariness precisely because it is predicated on the discovery and re-discovery of our inner selves - on what we perceive, at any point in time, as the force that binds us with all of humanity.
All we really need to know is that the world vibrates with undeniable potential, even when we struggle to understand its exact meaning or intention. It is our duty to ravel in the promise of that vibration because in time, all will be revealed. To experience truth in its purest form is to reach out to the inarticulable intuition that burbles within, that essential mystery that makes us human to ourselves and others. Because my dear readers, the startling truth about truth is that we are it.