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Relevance (?)

May 7, 2009

Can something be true yet irrelevant?
Can something that is both true and relevant also be meaningless?

absolutely true

If I step off a plane in a foreign country and see a door marked in a strange language that I cannot understand – it is indeed meaningless to me. It could say office, maintanence, storage… who knows? In fact it’s more than meaningless. it’s also irrelevant from my perspective of needs.

Now, let’s make the assumption that the marking on the door in fact says “restroom” and let’s assume that there are indeed restroom facilities behind the door. The writing therefore is abolutely true, but still absolutely meaningless (to me.)

Now, If I step off of the plane and am in desperate urgent need of getting to the restroom facilities, then what’s benind that door is extremely important in the here and now. The writing is indeed absolute truth, the content is absolutely relevant (to my needs), but unfortunately, it remains absolutely meaningless/useless/ lifeless. From my perspective, the word is nothing more than nonsensical scribble on a piece of wood. (assuming the door is made of wood.)

One’s ability to communicate clearly is direclty tied to cultural relevancey. And it changes over time. Culture, media, styles, even meanings of words change. In fact, without cultural relevance, our ability to communicate effectively is compromised because one might resort to insisting on using language and media that the current culture no longer uses or even understands. Does it mean that what is being said is no longer absolutely true? No. Does it mean that what is being said (or read) is no longer relevant? No.

What it does mean is that people can and will effortlessly disregard and ignore even “truth” desipite their immediate and urgent need. I sometimes wonder if it’s too easy to declare “in these post-modern times there is an absence of absolute truth.” When what we might be observing is, that despite shouting louder in obsolete ways, ways that are no longer understood – listeners simply just don’t care. And why should they? It’s maybe not so much a question of truth vs. fiction or right vs. wrong as much as it just doesn’t matter. It appears to me that even profound and absolute truth, without meaningful cultural relevance, can potentially become unrecognizable noise, lost in a sea of various media and content.

There can be danger in the natural tendancy to depend on old tradition, obsolete language, outdated music, that can slowly errode the understandability of absolutely truthful content. This is not to say that one cannot or should not study and learn from old tradition, history, and language or that a person’s heart can’t be stirred by singing songs that were understandable and meaningful in their youth. But why would anyone be surprised or threatened when others find those forms at the least questionable and irrelevant or at worst offensive? Is it possible that too much weight is placed on forms that have become personally nostalgic, overly valued, and even selfishly declared “holy”?

Making the original markings on the (restroom) door larger, bolder, duplicated, more colorful, graphically modern, accessible on the web, phone text, large screen etc. will not make it any more understandable or meaningful. It’s still meaningless scribble, albeit truthful.

add relevance
However, changing the word on the door to something understandable (or relevant), makes its content accessible. Also, to imply that making something relevant to culture somehow compromises the truth, would be like saying that accurately translating the language of the sign would somehow turn the restroom into a fire-escape.

Finally, it would be silly to assume I would spend several years learning that foriegn language just so I can read that door sign, so that maybe someday I could determine what’s behind the door thus obtaining enough enlightenment to finally get to use the restroom. God’s not given me that level of discipline. If I could simply read the sign, I could more quickly understand the truth, assess my belief, my need would be met, and I might even experience something close to a transformed life of joy instead of misery (as I nervously scamper thru the airport with little or no hope of not embarassing myself.)

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