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adiflesher's picture

Making meaning

I wanted to try to give my take on creating meaning. 


I think this phrase can sound very scary topeople. If we are creating meaning, does that mean that there is NO REALMEANING. If so, is the world inherently a dark place and  are we all going to suddenly start wearing,berets, black turtlenecks, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and contemplatingsuicide.


I actually find the idea of "making" meaningto be very hopeful and creative.   


Let's take a hypothetical example that mayhave happened two weeks ago. 


Me and my girlfriend are out for a walk withour cats. Yes cats. We encounter a tree. Does the tree have meaning?


I would argue that all four of us mademeaning out of that tree.


Bamba theless adventurous cat probably made the following meaning: Scared! Scared!Scared! What's that noise? What's that big thing over there making that barkingnosie?  What's this big thing in front ofme, maybe I can hide behind it.


Bisli themore adventurous cat probably had similar thoughts, but also realized that thebig thing might be a good thing to try climbing.


My girlfriend and I, in the mean time werelooking at each other, being vaguely embaressed to be hanging out with twoterrified kittens, in harnesses and leashes in the middle of a public park inPhiladelphia.  


Had we been less pre-occupied by our scaredcats, we might had any of the following thoughts in relation to the tree.  Wow its really pretty! I wonder who plantedit? I wonder how old it is? Boy am I thankful for the shade. I lovephotosynthesis! I wonder why the trees here turn color slower than the treesout in the burbs? I think the branches look like neurons and I would like totake a picture of it.


So what does a tree mean? 


The answer is that we are constantly makingmeaning out of trees and everything else.


A tree means fuel, beauty, food, oxygen, aplace to nest, a thing to climb, wood for a house or paper, green space, aplace to play and so many other things. But it only means those things inrelationship to the minds that interact with it.


When we make meaning of the tree - we arealso free to discover brand new possibilities. We can create brand newmeanings.


I was struck by an articlein today's  New York Times aboutentrupenuriship and new ideas. The business people cited here talk about serendipityand the need to keep and open and curious mind in relation to the world. 


It seems to me that they are talking aboutbeing open to new stories.  About makingmeaning. 


Ido agree with Martin's statement, that without meaning people have a reallyhard time. If they don't have bigger stories to help make sense of their livesthey really do end up struggling, despairing or losing hope.  Sometimes those stories are offered byReligion, or society. But even so a person actively has to make meaning ofthose stories. Religion still requires us to constantly make meaning ofthings. 

Viktor Frankel, a psychologist who survivedNazi concentration camps wrote about this. He said that the difference betweenthose who survived and those who died was the ability to find meaning in whatwas going on around them. 


Frankel told the story of who had lost hiswife of many years. He was terribly depressed and had seen several therapists.  He came to Frankel and explained thesituation.  Frankel asked the man if hethought that his wife loved him. The man replied, yes she had very much.  Frankel asked the man if in outliving her, hehad spared her the grief of having to deal with his death.  The man thanked him for helping to makemeaning out of his suffering.




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