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  • Andre Lamartin

The Abstraction of Life

Much of life boils down to simple truths having complex ramifications, as simplicity can be deceptively complex. One such truth is that life is like language, every word has meaning. Some are defined by dictionaries, others only in life itself. But the truth is not self-evident: all words were not created equal.

The most important words in life are all abstract nouns, words that signify ideas, qualities or states, but never concrete objects. Love, compassion, justice, beauty, wisdom, faith and peace are all examples. As Professor Keating would say, abstract nouns are the words we stay alive for. If dictionaries could define these words, there would be no need for relationships, religion, art or the trials of daily human existence. There would be no need for life itself or personal experience. We could all be programmed from birth as automata. Human existence is the journey of ascribing meaning to abstract nouns.

A recent definition ascribed to compassion illustrates this bold assertion. There were days when I met a homeless man along my way while returning home walking. He asked me not for money or shelter, but only for water to aid him along his way. I acquiesced, buying him a meal and filling his cup. Before leaving, he gave all the beef to his canine companion. “The best part for my best friend!”, was all he had to say. This encounter taught me more about compassion than any book read that day.

Ascribing meaning to abstract nouns requires actions provided by verbs, but they are simply a means to an end. Abstract nouns remain our moral compass, indicating the traveler´s final destination. Choosing a guiding abstract noun and ascribing it meaning is a matter that every individual must carefully ascertain, in accordance with laws both divine and mundane, desires eternally benign or temporarily vain.

The greatest irony of all is that the capitalist world should hold concrete nouns in such high esteem, owning objects deemed more important than realizing dreams, by ascribing true meaning to love, compassion, justice, beauty, wisdom, faith and a peace that all redeems. One must recall that the word “life” itself is an abstract noun, so that life´s true meaning can be finally found.

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