Of Semantics and Life

As the days go by and the years roll on, life gets interesting. Life gets us to shed some long held beliefs and offer us lessons that can only be learnt in the sands of time. Therein lays the joy of living: it is only by living life that we are able to learn whatever lessons it has to offer.

Over the past few days, I’ve had very exciting moments of growth, as life took me on some never-to-be-forgotten tours. Trips of Destiny, I love to call them. It’s been about my own life, yes, things I’ve lived out without ever expressing in words. Like love, like loyalty, like change, meaning, endings, secrets, answers, trust, patience and decisions. Certainly, we all live or meet with these along the way.

And although, I heard much of it earlier in a commencement speech delivered by singer John Legend at Pennsylvania University earlier this year, it was just an initial step in my recent life tour. In the speech, some of John Legend’s words got to me.

I nodded when he said; “There’s a certain confidence that comes with being sure about the way the world works. It’s all written in an infallible book and there’s nothing left to discuss. Mission accomplished”. Truth is, I used to be seemingly sure, quite cocky about the way the world works, but my trips of destiny altered that in several ways. I have come to a realization that, sometimes, life, like motherhood, can be a certainty, other times; it is a belief, just like fatherhood (You get it?).

John Legend was relating his experiences as a fresher at PENN U’ over a decade ago – the point which marked the beginning of his life’s journey. There, he shared these memorable contemplations: “…these experiences helped me realize that the answers to many of the issues we face are not black or white. The answers often lie in that gray area. It helped me realize that searching for the truth is a process. It’s journey”. Sure. I came from my recent tour with this awareness.

I was already on my journey and I needn’t go further with the singer’s words. It was as if a code was entered into my heart. Connected. Yes, it did. I was at the point in life where the playbooks had no answers to the circumstances. They hinted at my being in unchartered waters, hence no rules for my game. I was all alone, searching for the answers when sense came together with situation. It was my kairos moment.

“Sometimes there isn’t a single answer. But there’s always the truth”. Indeed!

The meaning of this journey, would later greet me in my Semantics class as I learnt the simple truths about Antonyms (opposite in meanings). It spoke about the meaning of meanings, the meaning of our experiences and most importantly, the truth of one’s world. I only remember the day as that Friday afternoon. That was when I saw it. Yes, I mean it. It here, was the profundity of the knowledge that when it comes to opposites in life, it cannot always hold by two sides. There are times when even the rational bears no clue.

To the student of Semantics therefore, while we have Binary opposites – which have only two sides of opposition such as ‘dead’ and ‘alive’ – there exists other types of opposites, which tell you that the opposite of ‘black’ cannot be ‘white’ only – it could as well be yellow or grey, may be purple too.

“Here, there are opposites in multiple taxonomies as well as oppositeness in Gradable items and converse oppositions”, went my Semantics instructor, the ever cute Emil Doyi. He went on to make the point about each of these kinds of opposites, emphasizing the different shades in meanings.

It was on that day that I learnt the lessons of how similar life’s experiences are to my study of meaning of meanings (Semantics): some opposites have more than two distinct opposites even while pointing to a common thread of similarity. (We can be partners and competitors at the same time, you see?) “Rose and hibiscus are both flowers – a point of similarity – but are opposites in terms of shape and form. Again, hot cannot be wholly opposite to cold, since grades of hot and cold exist; not forgetting the possibility of having tepid”. Funny and somewhat irrational; but isn’t life same?

These lessons, I came to realize, cannot be restricted to a particular language. It is a language of life (let me know if you disagree).

Growing up, many of us have been conditioned to accept simple truths as definite answers to some of life’s complex and tough questions. Maybe due to fear of controversy or the love of security, we cling to black when it’s not white; we are made to dislike those things we do not like. Somehow, we forsook the middle ground, the place that never favoured here or there. We always prefer to stick to the traditional answers. Careful reasoning got reduced to a trifle and we grew up with significant inadequacies.

For being pigeonholed over the long haul, we have grown to create boxes for every place we find ourselves in life. What am I driving at? Well, let me tell you: I have grown to realize that there are no simple answers to life’s questions. We cannot remain rutted in the either-this-or-that game all the time. The TRUTH comes after a deep search. Sometimes, the answer does not lie in the traditional or obvious.
I came out, feeling that God’s statement of “My ways are not your ways”, have something to do with our easy flight to making conclusions. That we’re human too, cannot be negated.

Indeed, this life cannot be led without wisdom – the kind that only God provides. Simple answers produce simple lives, trust me. It’s pretty much a struggle now, but I’m living with the conviction that everyone has a story. More so, the fact that life hasn’t got easy answers keeps me from passing judgment on others. Even if the need ever arises, it must come from careful deliberations, in search of that truth which lies at the centre of everyone’s life.

Like my instructor, Emil D. would say, “Meanings are based on relationships and these relationships are made up of a composition of components”. The meaning of life is equally a complex of components. To understand life, you must analyze the composition of its components. This leads us to another point in life and semantics: Componential Analysis.

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