“Relevance describes how pertinent, connected, or applicable something is to a given matter. A thing is relevant if it serves as a means to a given purpose” (Wikipedia).
IN OUR DAY, MANY PEOPLE WANT TO BE “RELEVANT” — BUT WE OFTEN APPROACH IT FROM THE WRONG ANGLE. It is easy to define relevance, but not so easy to pursue it wisely. The word simply means that our actions have a bearing on “the matter at hand.” In other words, a thing is relevant if it has a significant connection to what we’re trying to do. For example, at this moment I am trying to write a book. Relevant activities would be those that are connected to getting the book written; irrelevant activities would be those that are not, such as watching television, talking on the telephone, or taking a nap.
Now, here is the problem. If relevance means a connection to “the matter at hand,” then what is the matter at hand? What is it that we are trying to do? Nothing can be relevant if we don’t have a clear idea of the object of our endeavor. And frankly, many people don’t. They want to be relevant, but they are not sure what to be relevant to.
Years ago, Neil Postman made this comment: “We no longer have a coherent conception of ourselves, and our universe, and our relation to one another and our world. We no longer know, as the Middle Ages did, where we come from, and where we are going, or why. That is, we don’t know what information is relevant, and what information is irrelevant to our lives.” His point is well-taken. Being able to judge what is relevant requires a well-defined worldview, and in particular the acceptance of objective truth and goodness. Without these standards to judge by, relevance becomes irrelevant! If there is no objective “reality” and “truth” is anything we want it to be, then there is no significant “matter at hand” worth being relevant to.
So do you want to be relevant? I hope you do. But you can’t judge what you should do by judging what is relevant. To judge that, you will first have to determine what is true and good. These are the primary considerations. Once we’ve locked in on these goals, then we can figure out which actions are connected to them and which are not.
“Never question the relevance of truth, but always question the truth of relevance” (Craig Bruce).