By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Does truth have inherent value? What is beauty?
Those are questions many writers won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, except maybe ironically. Or else so circuitously that no one will notice that we’re actually taking on one of the biggies . . . the better to save face if we mess up.
But the brave – very young – souls of something called KidSpirit OnLine don’t mind going where cautious, old timey writers like myself would rather not tread.
Nimai Agarwal, all of 14 years old and a resident of Germantown, Maryland, asks, “With so many ideas of beauty and art . . . can there be such a thing as an ‘essence’ when dealing with beauty in art?”
Nimal takes a stab at an answer in his on-line essay for KidSpirit. In music and elsewhere, he writes, beauty is relative. “My mother can’t get behind the idea of dubstep,” he says, “but it has many fans who swear by it!”
But is there an essence, something that runs through every experience of the beautiful? Yes, writes Nimal. “For this I turn to love . . . It is when we love something that we see the beauty in it.”
OK, so much for beauty. How about truth? Does truth have inherent value?
Sofiy Inck, a 15-year-old Brooklynite, addresses that one. She describes getting into a little argument with her Greek (!) teacher in class. Her teacher admires Socrates, but Sofiy asserts
that Socrates, in cold-heartedly dismantling Euthyphro’s idea of piety, was being unnecessarily cruel to Euthyphro.
Sofiy thinks it over and concludes there are two types of truth — observable truth and personal truth. Gravity falls into the category of observable truth.
Personal truth would include such things as a person’s experience of God. That kind of truth
varies from person to person, Sofiy concludes. And too often, Sofiy says, we get so busy pursuing our personal truths that we devalue how other people feel about their personal truths.
Sofiy comes from a family whose members don’t all share the same religious faith. And she’s sensitive to the fact that asserting her particular personal truths – religious or political – at a family dinner can cause pain to others.
Remarkably, at essay’s end, young Sofiy is able to stand up to her teacher and to the venerable Socrates of old – and insist that relationships are more important than locating, asserting and “proving” one’s truth to all comers.
The world needs more Sofiys.
KidSpirit Online is a free on-line magazine for teenagers. It’s written and edited by young people and seeks to engage its readers in the big questions. The program is based in New York, but contributers come from all over the world. Poet Swastika Jajoo, 17, of New Delhi; interfaith columnist Fareeha Shah, 17, of Pakistan, and artist Richard Guzman, 16, of Worcester, Mass., are just a few.
If you know of a talented teen with an inclination toward the spiritual and life’s big questions – poet, writer, artist, photographer, reviewer, cartoonist, or joke teller — I encourage you to pass along this link to KidSpirit Online where they can click on the “submit your work” tab and find themselves amidst kindred spirits.
KidSpirit was founded by Elizabeth Dabney Hochman, who was in Decatur last month for the Religion Newswriters Association conference, where she accepted the Schachern Online Religion Section of the Year, Honorable Mention Award, for KidSpirit OnLine. Congrats to Elizabeth and the artists, writers and editorial board of KidSpirit.
John Adams, composer of the controversial opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer,” talks about the creative process at “There Are Lots of Ways to Be Creative — What’s Yours?” Young or old, we can all use some fresh writing tips from time to time. Here are some “Personal Writing Tips Stolen From My Coaches.”