Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Discovering Meaning

Who determines the meaning of something? Where/how is meaning attached?
We discussed this in great length in Communication Theory classes. Is the meaning attached by the person who sends the message or the person who receives it?


“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey

So, in the above quote - Whose fault is it?
Much of understanding or misunderstanding one another revolves around context. It's not the words alone or the symbols alone that get confusing. It's the meaning we associate. When I convey a message - in words or symbols - I attach a meaning based on my context. The next person does the same. The context we share determines how closely we understand the message - hear the words - share meaning for the symbol.
When people feel oppressed with "political correctness", it's a sign of the lack of shared context with someone who may be offended. The person who is offended does not understand or trust the context in which the person speaks. It's painful on both sides.
It is painful to the person who is offensive. Perhaps they sincerely do not mean to offend and don't see the negative context. Perhaps they don't like being called out for actually embracing the negative context.
It is pain for the person who is offended. Perhaps they have become overly sensitive and assume offense. Perhaps they have grown attuned to underlying motives that all too often surface in subtle ways.
So, what is the solution? If you want to be understood, build context. To build context, you need to be a better listener. Build trust. The more open and aware we become, the greater the ease of building understanding. It's not a troubling thing. It's a journey of understanding and exploration to be embraced. Awareness of you and your context as well as awareness of others and their context brings peace.

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