362. Essay: Axiomatic Things
An axiom is something that is self-evidently true.
There are several things I believe are axiomatic: love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. These qualities have no equal in the animal kingdom, they hint at more than biological processes, they are beyond simplistic facts or emotions, and the fact that they even exist seems mystical. On the negative side, selfishness, guilt, and — at times — worry seem axiomatic as well, especially due to their internality and when set in context to the six concepts above.
Love has a singularity to it; it is focused on only one person, not on the many or all. Even for all our attempts at defining and expressing love, it still retains its mystique and majesty. It is experienced but still not understood. It moves the strong and the weak, yet is aloof from explanation. It makes kings fall and raises paupers in the experience of grandeur. It captures the masses but finds its expression only in the singularity of relationship. Love is mystical in that it is the one-in-a-million lightning strike that happens every minute of every day. Love is common alchemy.
Justice is simply not attainable in this world. Yes, thieves are caught and murderers serve their time, but how often do the guilty go free and the innocent receive punishment undeserved? To be true justice, it must inherently have many necessary components. It must firstly be exhaustive — in its knowledge of the people involved, what makes them who they are, the beliefs they hold as true, the background of the situation, the cultural milieu, their psychological and biochemical state, their intentions, their actions, their emotional dullness, and much more.
Justice must also be perfect. It must be correct in its assigning of blame and innocence. It therefore is not mathematical, but intensely personal. The act of administering justice is not by rote, but by intervention and distinction and intuition. Justice uses something outside of itself while reaching within the complexity of humanness to judge. Humans are able to distinguish between facts, but justice is more than factual distinction. However you want to phrase this, justice is completely moral, or righteous, or pure. It is right and never wrong. Justice is also imbued with impartiality. It shows no favoritism and employs no emotion even while penetrating the heart — the core — the essence — of who that person is. This is the paradoxical part of justice, the non-emotional part that reaches within the emotions of a human to satisfy this great longing of every person.
What about the personal part of justice? Not the part that holds to a justice out there somewhere, but the part that has experienced a tragic wrong. The part that says, “I was wronged and it needs to be put right.” In that situation, our heart cries out for payback. This again demands a person able to step into our situation, feel our devastation, know all the external issues, and move swiftly on our behalf. This kind of justice is partially a move to satisfy our heart and restore peace within us. But how would anything impersonal know us within? Neither a rock nor a dog can know the internal workings of a grasshopper. A gorilla does not intuit what it would be like to be a hummingbird, but we humans do. We can even imagine what a gorilla would think being a hummingbird would be like. Personhood is the only thing that can open this kind of knowledge for investigation, and justice is intensely personal and interior.
Have you noticed that children, in their innocence, have a distinct love of and desire for justice?
I say justice is axiomatic because there is nothing so pure, so wise, so exhaustive in its understanding of mankind, and yet so unsentimental as true justice. And this, to me, is what makes justice an expression of a person.
We are by nature self-centered hoarders. Humility is the only thing standing in the way of our nature; humility is undeniably the hinderance to what makes us human. Achieving is no longer about being the best at something, but about having the most. Interior qualities — what was called character in bygone times — have been replaced with fleeting stratosphere-bound counts. It’s now the most gold medals rather than the best match; the most world records rather than the best attitude and form; the most money rather than best life; the most sponsorships rather than the best product; the most readers rather than the best content; the most votes rather than the best plan. It’s now about having rather than being.
Children are the generational reminder of our selfishness. Their perpetual clutching is interrupted only by outwardly congenial play contrived to gain more, and by fleeting bouts of tears over what is not clutched, their intention to clutch more, and who stole what from their clutches. Selfishness is to humanness what air is to breathing — necessary, pervasive, interior, and insatiable.
So then why teach humility? Humility is not an impulse we have, and “to deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Humility makes us weak, takes away our resolve, and leads us to unnecessary self-sacrifice at times. There is nothing so devastating to our own nature as humility, so there is no applicable reason to encourage its existence.
But who can deny the position of greatness that humility holds within the human experience? Becoming a good cook has its roots in who we are: we need food to survive as a species. There’s an obvious connection there. Humility, however, is categorically alien to humanness. There is no precursor within our nature or our needs. I say humility is axiomatic because there is little else so admired while emerging out of nothing mankind finds within their nature.
Mercy is the desire of all who encounter true justice. Mercy is the human request when faced with our undeniable self. Our known guilt — that internal neon sign with the blazing letters, Wrong Way — drives us to beg for mercy. We want what we don’t deserve. “I admit I did wrong, but please do not hold me accountable for what I did. Please do not hold me to the standard.” The request for mercy does not lie or color the situation favorably, it simply asks, “Please. Please don’t.” Mercy relies on the fact of a personality who has the power and the will to make just such a decision. Mercy cannot be acquired from a force or an automaton. It claims that there is something beyond the right and the wrong and it asks to be judged on a scale of intangibles. It is an appeal to a standard beyond and above justice itself. From a being who is perfect, mercy asks nothing short of a miracle. And without mercy, mankind becomes something it was not intended to be.
But where is mercy in nature? The cyclone shows no mercy to the land or its inhabitants, neither does the earthquake or tidal wave. The prey does not beg for another chance; the predator would never give it. It is not just that nature has not produced mercy of a sort, but it could not ever even imagine it.
Have you ever noticed that we, being not children anymore and knowing the depth of our wickedness, naturally desire mercy? When the police pull us over, all we really want is mercy, the precise thing we don’t deserve at that moment. And when someone has crashed into us, all we really want is to withhold the exact thing they don’t deserve as well. Since we can choose to request, to grant, and to withhold mercy in the face of guilt, and since we do all this while minding the scales of justice — none of which is observed in the elements or among the animals — I say mercy is axiomatic.
Forgiveness is the sister of mercy. Mercy chooses not to act; forgiveness chooses not to keep record. Forgiveness wipes away what was done. Without forgiveness, our indebtedness for carrying out our nature in selfish acts would be insurmountable. Mercy without forgiveness would also breed a kind of contempt — the kind that chooses to not seek justice, but despises being continually wronged and has vowed to keep an account.
Forgiveness is the bridge between mercy and hope. Without the hope that things can change, that situations can get better, and that people can improve, forgiveness is futile. Said in reverse, because we have positive hope, we can choose to not keep record (forgive) and extend the hand of peace to those who have wronged us (mercy).
Forgiveness is not seen amongst the animal kingdom. No cheetah bumps into another during a sprint and genuflects, “Pardon me.” A bird accidentally pecking up the wrong morning food gives not the slightest apology for his absentmindedness to his unintended prey, but we offer an “Oops” with a nervous laugh if we grab the wrong cup of coffee from the prepared orders. Animals find no need to make something right because they have no standard of right and wrong. The utter lack of oughtness in nature makes ours all the more distinct, and therefore sets forgiveness in the category of an axiom.
Hope seeks more. Trust is inherent in hope. Better is inherent in hope.
Hope is not seen in nature; where it is hinted at, it is being superimposed by us. Winter is boundaried by the turning of spring, but this is not hope. The animal world and the insect population and the non-evergreen foliage do not wait in hope of spring, they simply travel the course of their instinct or according to nature’s seasons. Plants do not hope for a more lush location, do not seek out greener pastures, do not long for equality or fight for rights. Animals do not hold out hope that next year’s harvest will be better, that humans will be more humane, or that they may be represented fairly amongst their predators. And when predators do strike, there is no protest of fair warning or accusations of cheating the system. Nature has no hope of better and does not experience trust issues. There’s no job market for “Fawn and Foliage Counseling Services.” Nature is comprised much of instinct; hope, however, is definitely not instinctual.
Humanness and Beyond
On one hand, we humans are such selfish beings that we must invent ways to deal with the entailing guilt. “I want” and “Mine” do not need to be taught. We want to enjoy drinking soft drinks but despise the calories, so we buy a diet drink. If we don’t want caffeine, we choose a caffeine-free diet drink. And if we don’t want a manufactured sweetener, we can get an all-natural caffeine-free diet soft drink. In almost any flavor, natural or unnatural. Putting ourself first comes natural; assuaging our guilt, an imminent second place.
On the other hand, we seek so much of what we do not deserve, what is contrary to our own nature and to nature in general. But these undeserved things — love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope — are necessary for our existence. They are ideals made tangible in small glimmers. They are the sublime qualities seen in irregular pulsar bursts from another human’s actions.
We feel them, we know them, we need them, and — mark this — we are not human without them. Examples of the person who has removed one of these from their life are only found in two places. The first is in the self-imposed exile of despair, leading to bitterness, leading to aloneness. The second is in the volumes of tragic works produced by “artists” which crescendo in stunning sorrow. Without one of the six parts of our axiomatic humanness, we end up with either the masquerade of fiction or actual wretchedness. One makes for dramatic tension, the other for detestable company. We take part in one because it is “just a story,” the other is avoided because of its life-draining misery.
It seems clear to me that these six concepts are from something categorically different than nature or biological processes, mathematics or emotions, chance, or philosophy. They do not arise from anything lower than us or equal with us, but from something beyond us, from someone more pure and whole than we ever have been. They are eternal, personal, interior, and necessary, which when taken together serve as an introductory summation of God.