But here’s the problem, talking to people about how they make meaning is like to talking to fish about water. The fish say, “What water?” They are not conscious of the water. We are not conscious of the ways that we are making meaning.
If you want to understand more about how you, or someone else makes meaning, listen to the stories they tell. We all tell many stories, and when you listen for the themes you will hear stories about:
- Achievement — what have I accomplished?
- Community — concern with the wellbeing of others.
- Duty — focus on responsibility and obligation to a cause.
- Freedom — the importance of being unrestricted.
- Intimacy — placing great value on the quality of connection.
- Justice — concern that people are treated equitably.
- Redemption — making up for past failures and mistakes.
- Security — avoidance of pain and loss.
- Truth — emphasis is placed on there being an objective truth.
What category best describes your stories?
How does this serve you well? And, how does this limit you?
I worked with a couple and the man mostly told stories having to do with achievement and redemption, while his partner told stories having to do with security. He makes meaning of their relationship by measuring how much he has improved over the years. She makes meaning by remembering experiences of pain and loss in the past, and by figuring out how to avoid pain and loss in the future.
Because they make meaning in very different ways they don’t experience a great deal of satisfaction when talking about how they relate. Even when people make meaning in similar ways that doesn’t guarantee they will relate well, but it tends to make it easier to communicate because they have a similar focus.
A great exercise is to determine what kind of stories you use most often and then pick a different category and try using that as a way to explain things. For example, notice how different the world appears when you stop making meaning by focusing on achievement and instead start focusing on community.
The point of this exercise is to become more conscious of the ways in which you make meaning. Play around and see what happens.
I have noticed that my stories take on a life of their own and it’s not necessarily the life I want to live. This is because my stories are based on many outdated ideas. One thing I can do is update my stories, by creating new ones. Another thing I can do is consciously try to make meaning in a different way. Both of these are valuable, but recently I’ve found something that I find to be more powerful.