We constantly make meaning out of words and labels because language is a fundamental tool for communication and understanding in our society. It is what we have been taught to do from our very first word and it is carried out throughout almost every piece of conventional education that we undertake as we grow as people. These words and labels give us structure, while providing us with a way to categorize and describe things, people, and concepts in a way that others can understand.
This shared understanding allows us to communicate more efficiently and effectively, and to collaborate and work together towards common goals.
But what happens when those words, labels and meanings are not filtered through the same life experiences, education or even cultural background? Something almost always gets lost so our minds will get to work and try to fill those gaps with our own meaning and interpretations.
Along the same path we know that words and labels also carry significant cultural and social meanings. For example, some words may be associated with particular values, beliefs, or social groups, and using or avoiding these words can communicate a person’s identity or worldview. Labels can also be used to categorize people or groups based on various characteristics such as age, gender, race, or occupation, which can help to facilitate social organization and identity formation.
Even though we all share language it does not mean we interpret what is shared in the same way – why is that?
Meaning Making Machines
People are meaning making machines because we have a natural tendency to seek out patterns, connections, and explanations for the world around us. From a young age, we are constantly learning and trying to make sense of the things we experience. This is because our brains are wired to create meaning and structure out of the vast amount of information we encounter.
Our ability to make meaning is also closely tied to our language and social development. Language allows us to convey complex ideas and concepts, and to create, or co-create, shared meaning with others. Through social interactions and cultural learning, we develop shared frameworks of meaning and understanding that help us navigate the world around us. This framework is a direct result of all of the influences that we have had throughout our lives. Each influence plays its part in giving us the perceived meaning of what is being said to us and what is going on around us in the world.
It’s our filter which we create all meaning from.
Additionally, our emotions, values, and beliefs play a significant role in the meaning we create. Our personal experiences, cultural background, and social context all shape the way we interpret and understand the world, and can influence the meanings we attach to things.
We are meaning making machines because it is a fundamental part of how we learn, communicate, and make sense of the world around us. Our ability to create meaning is a complex process that involves our brains, language, social interactions, and personal experiences.
It makes us who we are.
Context and Intent Matter For True Meaning
Knowing the context and intent about something is important prior to coming to a conclusion because it can greatly influence our understanding and interpretation of the situation or information. Without considering the context and intent, we may make assumptions or we can jump to conclusions that are inaccurate or unfair.
Understanding the context helps us to interpret the information correctly. The same information can have different meanings depending on the context in which it is presented. For example, a joke that might be appropriate in one setting may be inappropriate in another. By understanding the context, we can better understand the intended meaning and avoid misinterpreting or misrepresenting the information.
Knowing the intent helps us to avoid misjudgment. Intent refers to the purpose or motivation behind a particular action or statement. By understanding the intent, we can avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions that may be unfair or incorrect. For example, if someone makes a critical comment, understanding their intent can help us determine whether they were trying to be helpful or hurtful.
Understanding the context and intent of a message can help us communicate more effectively with others. By taking the time to understand the other person’s perspective, we can avoid misunderstandings and build better relationships.
Without knowing the true intent and the context in which something is presented to us we are left to our own interpretation and will make meaning of what we are presented with.
We do not have to make meaning though, we can employ a few simple strategies to avoid our innate need to make meaning without a clear foundation to do so from.
Reducing The Need To Make Meaning
Yes, like anything we come up against that we want to work on changing there are steps you can take to work on reducing the need to constantly make meaning out of information. Consider this the next time a situation arises that you are left with an unsettled feeling due to not have clarity:
- Gather information: Before coming to a conclusion, it’s important to gather as much information as possible. This might involve doing research, talking to others who have knowledge or experience in the area, or simply taking the time to reflect on the situation. The more information you have, the better equipped you will be to make an informed decision.
- Consider alternative explanations: It’s important to avoid assuming that the first explanation you come up with is the only possible one. Instead, try to think of alternative explanations that might also be true. This can help you avoid jumping to conclusions based on limited information.
- Avoid making assumptions: Assumptions can be a major obstacle to avoiding making meaning of something. Instead of assuming that you know what someone else is thinking or feeling, try to ask open-ended questions and listen actively to their responses. This can help you gain a better understanding of their perspective and avoid making assumptions that may be incorrect.
- To better understand a situation where you have made meaning of something you can also ask yourself clarifying questions such as: What have I made this mean? What was my hope?
- Consider the context: As we discussed earlier, context can be an important factor in understanding a situation. Before coming to a conclusion, it’s important to consider the broader context in which the situation is occurring. This might include things like cultural norms, historical events, or social dynamics.
- Take a step back: Sometimes, the best way to avoid making meaning is simply to take a step back and give yourself some space. This might involve taking a break from the situation or engaging in a calming activity like meditation or exercise. By giving yourself time and space to process your thoughts and emotions, you can avoid making hasty decisions based on incomplete information.
- Consider your own filters: We all hear and take in information that is given to us through our own filters. These filters are based on our past experiences, knowledge on a subject, mood, mindset and several other variables that fluctuate in and out of importance depending on how we feel at that exact moment. Try asking yourself if you are looking at this new information with a filter that is not serving you are that is not one based on fact but is of feeling? What does your gut tell you?
Be Willing To Be Wrong
The saying is “we are human after all” when someone is fallible or a mistake is made. One interpretation of this is that we learn by making mistakes and that is all part of the human experience. A willingness to try and to learn from doing is part of the core of our time here and is what allows us to grow as people.
Even the most practiced person will slip in the habit of making meaning of something and that is OK; you will too, but the point is to attempt to change that and make it a daily practice to continue to release and be instead of analyze and filter. When you do make meaning of something simply check in with yourself, see how and why it occurred and look for a better way of approaching a situation in the future. It takes time and practice, give yourself grace as you implement it into your daily being. After all we are born to be meaning making machines.
Put It Into Practice
Reducing our need to make meaning without a full understanding of what is before us is a critical skill in both personal and professional settings. At its core, effective communication is the key to success and it involves the ability to convey a message clearly and accurately, while also being able to listen actively and respond appropriately. One of the key elements of effective communication, and avoiding a space that allows for meaning to be made, is the ability to tailor your message to your audience.
This means taking into account factors like the person’s age, cultural background, and level of knowledge or expertise. By doing so, you can ensure that your message is not only understood, but also resonates with the person on a deeper level.
You can help those around you from making meaning by being an effective communicator. And through this exercise you will also learn to reduce your own need to make meaning.
Another important aspect of removing the need to make meaning is the ability to manage conflict and negotiate effectively. Conflict is a natural part of any relationship, and being able to navigate it in a healthy and productive way is crucial. This might involve strategies like active listening, staying calm and respectful, and focusing on finding mutually beneficial solutions.
When negotiating, it’s important to be clear about your needs and expectations, while also being willing to compromise and find creative solutions that work for everyone involved. By mastering these skills, individuals can become more effective communicators and build stronger relationships both at home and in the workplace.
The next time you are in a conversation ask yourself these two questions:
Was I clear in delivering my message and was my intent and the context of it understood?
Do I have all the information I need from the person I was speaking with so that I am not left to make meaning from what was just said?
If either of these two questions can not be clearly answered, get clarity or ensure you message is clear so that you can work towards not having a situation where you or someone else is left to be a meaning making machine.