I am one of those people who has always believed himself to be incomplete. I’m often asking, “What am I doing wrong?” I’m never good enough. I’m unloveable. My work is never up to my standards. I’m usually afraid to try.
I’ve been reading a lot on resilience and philosophy lately. It’s been undoubtedly helpful. It’s clear that many of my questions and judgments are not well-formed. As my good, respected friend framed it, you can always have worked harder or faster. You can always have done something just a little bit better. So those sorts of judgments have no value. I recognize I’ve been far kinder to others than to myself. But old habits are hard to break.
And so, I’ve granted myself a slightly extended amount of time off to find balance. To figure out a frame of mind from which I can be a better person sustainably. But this, too, starts from the wrong premise. This still assumes that there is some concrete, better model of myself that I can identify and move confidently towards. This still involves a search for a truth that will always escape me.
I recently read Gödel, Escher, Bach. It’s extremely elegant. But one reminder for me is that even number theory, the study of the properties of numbers, the study of the theorems of arithmetic—even this is incomplete. There is no way to systematically arrive at all true statements. There is also no way to evaluate the truth value of a given statement. What could be more cut and dry than arithmetic? And yet our knowledge here is bounded. Arithmetic is necessarily incomplete. What hope do any of us have of completeness ourselves?
This doesn’t call for a renunciation of truth or hope, but I think I’ll try something different. I think I’ll try searching for beauty instead. Kant connected moral reasoning with our purely rational faculties via beauty and aesthetics. Maybe engaging with the beautiful is what I’ve been missing as I seek kinder truths. Nature, art, ideas, animals, people. I’ll try connecting. There’s no real program here. I’m following it on purely on faith.
And it’s in this context that I find myself in my host family’s spare home overlooking the lake with cool weather, colors starting to decorate the sky. Sitting down with a serving of Scotch, reading material in hand, and a Bach 6-part fugue referenced in the aforementioned book (the Ricercar from his Musical Offering to be exact) on my headphones. Exceptional audiophile headphones that were gifted from my last company. The sound is glorious. The music is brilliant. It’s stirring. It’s… beautiful. And I stop, and I appreciate, and I sip my Scotch. And I remember. This Scotch was collectively gifted to me by my coworkers when I left my job. There’s love in these drops. Beauty has reminded me of a beautiful truth.