absolute facts in a relative world

The Irony of Absolute Facts in a Relative World

I have often lived this exact moment when I sit at my desk with an open window and an open laptop. The trees outside and the screen inside both stare at me in anticipation while I stare back at them, lifting my gaze from the screen to the trees and back to the screen in quick succession, waiting for inspiration to strike. But sometimes inspiration is stubborn, and other times I am unreceptive. Occasionally, it is both together. Today is one such day.

However, rummaging through the lulled layers of my mind, I am suddenly reminded of a very intriguing topic that a friend brought up over dinner last week. He remarked, “Have you ever wondered how everything is absolute yet completely relative in this world?” Now, he is a man of science and I am a woman of sentiment, but we are both humans of spirit. So, we started from the high temples of Newtonian and Einsteinian theories and came down to the cradles of civilized cringe life to verify the veracity of the statement.

To put it across blithely, the Law of Gravity is absolute. It exists. Period. But it exists relative to your location on the planet. It is slightly stronger over places with more mass underground than over places with less mass. Similarly, the Law of Nature is absolute. Every life that is born must perish, irrespective of its evolutionary hierarchy. However, the grief of each atomic death is relative. The nature, or law of water is absolute. It cools anything it is poured over. But its cooling is relative to its surrounding temperature. The laws of math are absolute. But these absolutes gave rise to the Theory of Relativity.

Beyond this, my unscientific mind was turning me in, so we shifted the scope of our conversation from empirical science to more dynamic human life to see if the statement was still upheld in this niche. It is in this very myopic context that this idea has maximum appeal to me. The laws of the universe and the facts of individual life simply persist. But it is in our human intellect to analyze these facts to explain our existence. Sadly, we comprehend it only in relative terms.

Our entire world structure is nothing but a comparative study of facts. Each morning is proof of this: “The country’s GDP grows at 6.5% this year compared to 5.6% last year.” “The average rainfall recorded in the city for June is 35mm, a drop of 5 mm from last year’s record,”, “Net sales up in the automobile industry in Q3 as compared to sales in Q2”, “Emissions from oil grew by 2.5% in 2022 from the previous year”. Unsurprisingly, the independent absolutes aren’t as relevant until placed against each other. And every action thereafter is taken only in pursuance of this comparison.

In a personal microcosm, the absolute facts of my life are that I have x cars, y bank balance, and z accolades. There is nothing else to dwell on here. It is merely my stock of belongings. However, the whole enterprise of this list has import only in relation to my previous facts and others’ similar lists.

So, I make a mental check of my friend’s absolutes. He has p cars, q bank balance, and r trophies. Now the real game of relativity begins when I compare x to p, y to q, and z to r. At this exact moment of my material discerning, I will choose from one of the many emotional recourses available to me. If my absolutes fare better than my friend’s, I will either feel pride or gratitude. If he fares better than mine, I will either feel self-pity, envy, craving, or motivation. There may be more options on the ‘feeling’ spectrum, but I am just mentioning the more obvious ones.

Most of the mental reactions that present themselves to an average intelligent man in his comparative life are vile and treacherous tricksters that make him lose his peace. Only gratitude or motivation look like worthy ones. But what suddenly concerns me is that if my absolutes turn out to be always lesser than all my friends and peers, will I ever feel a grain of gratitude in my heart? Will my spirit ever soak in the joy of thankfulness? Or will it go parched and anxious, looking for that elusive, uplifting drench?

Can there be folly in our almost collective ideology? For some reason, we have come to live against a yardstick. And that yardstick may have deceitfully morphed into motivation. We take every action and reaction to outdo ourselves or someone else. And if this fallacy wasn’t enough, we somehow even learnt to value our privileges and good fortune in relation to the deprived.

I have often thought about how lucky I am to have a solid roof over my head, especially during cyclones and storms when so many are battling the vagaries of nature with mere tenacity. But gratitude is not to be practiced in relativity. It is to be found in the absolutes of your life. I need to appreciate and value what I have, irrespective of how much more or less others have.

We are so binge-chasing and hoarding physical and mental accomplishments, even celebrations and vacations, for the sole reason that we have thrown in the absolutes for the relative. Imagine, for once, if we stopped living in the comparative realm. The whole pursuit of our existence will lose much enchantment and rapidity but gain more emancipation and energy in the bargain.

~Radhika Mimani

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash   

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