Some time ago I posted a quote from Robert F. Kennedy’s moving address at the University of Kansas:
“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile . . . “
Since he spoke those words in 1968, the situation has become worse. The phrase “intelligence of our public debate” and “integrity of our public officials” describe a political culture that vanished years ago. Great artists toil in obscurity as the publishing, film and art industries bring to market only what their marketing demographic studies predict will sell. Educational institutions find themselves marginalized by testing requirements and ill-equipped to deal with a generation that learns differently than what their educational dogma prescribes. Cynicism dominates; imagination is only worth something when it can be transformed into a marketable product or service. Beauty has been defined for us by the media, and the enhanced photographs of attractive models carry very little truth with them.
For some reason (bad genes, mental defect or good old-fashioned stupidity), I still value truth and beauty above all things. If I were to describe the driving force of my existence, it is this pursuit of truth and beauty. When I do find those qualities, whether in honestly-spoken words or in the eyes of a woman experiencing delight or in the sun illuminating the green leaves of a shade tree in summer, I experience timelessness, awakening and joy.
I have found two things through this endless pursuit. The first is that Keats was right: truth and beauty are one. The second is that the pursuit of beauty and truth can be an alienating experience in a culture that values neither. People in our culture have become almost exclusively transactional, caring little about conversations that do not produce results. This is particularly true for those in our culture who work for a living and are simply too tired to bother with anything that smells of “deep.”
Though many of the people I know find it inconvenient, silly and a little bit weird, I can’t help myself. I will continue to seek truth and beauty regardless of what other people think. It makes me sad that there are so few people with whom I can connect on this subject, but those are the times we live in.
However, I do have to protest when people accuse me of being an idealist. I am not seeking an ideal, I am seeking beauty and truth without a preconceived definition of what it will look like when I find it. The surprise is an essential component in the power of its revelation. What I am constantly seeking is real, tangible and possesses that elusive quality of forever.
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’