HALF TRUTHS (essay & stories)

“For God’s sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself!”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1869, Public Domain

Robert Louis Stevenson 1869, Public Domain

“All error, not merely verbal, is a strong way of stating that the current truth is incomplete. The follies of youth have a basis in sound reason, just as much as the embarrassing questions put by babes and sucklings. Their most antisocial acts indicate the defects of our society. When the torrent sweeps the man against a boulder, you must expect him to scream, and you need not be surprised if the scream is sometimes a theory. Shelley, chafing at the Church of England, discovered the cure of all evils in universal atheism. Generous lads irritated at the injustices of society, see nothing for it but the abolishment of everything and Kingdom Come of anarchy. Shelley was a young fool; so are these cocksparrow revolutionaries. But it is better to be a fool than to be dead. It is better to emit a scream in the shape of a theory than to be entirely insensible to the jars and incongruities of life and take everything as it comes in a forlorn stupidity. Some people swallow the universe like a pill; they travel on through the world, like smiling images pushed from behind. For God’s sake give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself! As for the others, the irony of facts shall take it out of their hands, and make fools of them in downright earnest, ere the farce be over. There shall be such a mopping and a mowing at the last day, and such blushing and confusion of countenance for all those who have been wise in their own esteem, and have not learnt the rough lessons that youth hands on to age. If we are indeed here to perfect and complete our own natures, and grow larger, stronger, and more sympathetic against some nobler career in the future, we had all best bestir ourselves to the utmost while we have the time. To equip a dull, respectable person with wings would be but to make a parody of an angel.” –From Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Crabbed Age and Youth


[A trickster story from Yoruba culture in Nigeria, West Africa]

Photo from Orishas Eleggua

Photo from Orishas Eleggua

“Once there were two men, fine friends who lived in the same village. They had known each other since boyhood and loved each other like brothers. They lived next door to each other. They eat their meals together. They even kept fields in close proximity to each other; one farmed the land on the south side of the road that led out of the village and the other farmed the north side. These two were inseparable. Every morning, the two men met outside with their lunch and tools in hand and walked up the road together. All morning long one would hoe and chop in one field and the other would hoe and chop in the field just across the road and at lunchtime they would stop and come together under a big tree and eat lunch together. After lunch, and maybe a nap, they would go back to work until the end of the day and walk back home together. The people in the village were so used to seeing them like this that they could barely think of one man without thinking of the other.

One day, Eshu came to the village. And he saw the two men greet each other in the morning and he saw how close they were and he decided to have a little bit of fun with them. That day the two friends, who loved each other like brothers, walked up the road as always and one man went into the field on the south side of the road and the other went into the field on the north side of the road. They chopped and they hoed and they chopped and they hoed and it was a really hot day, so at one point they both paused to wipe the sweat from their brow.

A stranger was coming down the road. It was a really nice looking man on a horse. The man was wearing a cap. Now there was not a lot of traffic on this road, the village was small and not many people had their fields out that direction. So the passing of this stranger was kind of an event. Both of the men stopped and noticed the man and he waved at them and they waved back.

When it was time to stop for lunch the two friends, who loved each other like brothers, met under the tree and opened up their lunch and started talking about their morning. The man with the field on the south side of the road said, “My dear friend, did you see that fine looking man come by on the horse?” and the man with the field on the north side of the road said, “I certainly did. He was a fine looking man on a fine horse, and I really liked his black cap.”

His friend looked at him and said, “I liked the cap too brother, but it wasn’t black, it was red.” And his friend who loved him like a brother said, “No, the cap was black.” And the other man, who had never disagreed with his friend before insisted, “I tell you, the cap was red.” “Black.” “Red.” “Black.” “Red.” “It was a black cap and you know it, why are you being obstinate?” “It was a red cap and why are you being stubborn?” “Black, and you must be a fool.” “Red, and you must be blind.” The two men got quite angry and before you know it they were cuffing each other and rolling around in the dirt yelling and insulting each other at the top of their lungs.

People way down in the village heard them and came running up the road to see what was going on. They were shocked to find these two friends, who loved each other like brothers, fighting in this way. They jumped into the fray and pulled the men apart to find out what was the trouble. The man with the field on the south side of the road said, “A man on a horse came by in a fine red cap and this fool insist that the cap was black.” The man with the field on the north side of the road said, “Well, this idiot needs to do something about his eyes because the cap was black.”

The people stood around scratching their heads and they weren’t sure which was more confusing, the bit about the cap or the sight of these two dear friends fighting. In the midst of the confusion, up rides Eshu, wearing his cap. The two men saw him and said, “There he is, there is the man.” Eshu waved at them and they waved back. Then Eshu slowly turned his head to the right and he slowly turned his head to the left. The two men were dumbfounded. The cap was red on one side and black on the other. They got down on their knees in front of Eshu and asked, “Eshu, why did you mess with us like that?”

Eshu replied, “Causing discord is my greatest joy.” He rode away.”
Rendition from the blog of Dr. Catherine Svehla, found via Disinformation

[A syādvāda / nayavāda story from Jain culture in India, South Asia]

“Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

The moral of the story is that there may be some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes not because they may have different perspective which we may not agree too. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” This way we don’t get in arguments. In Jainism, it is explained that truth can be stated in seven different ways. So, you can see how broad our religion is. It teaches us to be tolerant towards others for their viewpoints. This allows us to live in harmony with the people of different thinking. This is known as the Syadvada, Anekantvad, or the theory of Manifold Predictions.”
Rendition & Photo from Jainworld.com


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