The act of making meaning is fascinating. It is a perspective from which I choose to tell my story and it defines my role in an interaction. It determines the path I take next, and impacts my world and those in it. Making meaning can strengthen relationships or destroy them. Let me give you an example. I call a friend. She doesn’t return the call. Why? My mind flips though possibilities, each a rich, scripted story in my imagination that I can use to make sense of the situation:
- She is busy and will get back to me when she can.
- She is injured or in the hospital.
- She is depressed, and does not have the energy to call.
- I am not important enough for her to call back.
- Maybe she is out of the country.
- She did not call me back.
Which story is true? The reality is, I don’t know. But that doesn’t stop me from creating possibilities. But what is important is that whichever story I use to create meaning will determine my attitude:
- She hates me… I am not important enough to call back.
- I must have done something wrong…
- Something is wrong… She is injured or in the hospital… She is depressed, and does not have the energy to call…
- She is busy… she is out of the country… her cell phone isn’t working… she forgot to call me back…
- “Wow! That’s interesting she didn’t call me back. Hmmm… I wonder why. I’ll find out. I’ll call her back, stop at her house, leave a message at her office, or call a mutual friend to see if she has heard from her.
Any of these scenarios might be true. But without more data, I cannot identify the true meaning, and I can choose from many possibilities. So, to collect data, I stop at my friend’s house and ask if she received my call. She responds “Yes, but I decided not to return it because I’m upset with you.” I decide to explore her response rather than immediately reacting with alarm. “Oh! Why are you upset with me?” She says, “Because you stood me up for dinner last Thursday night.”
Now I have enough data to construct an authentic, shared meaning of the situation, plus an opportunity to apologize and try to repair the relationship. If, however, I had not chosen to get her perspective, I would not have been able to create a shared meaning with my friend. And without this shared meaning, the relationship would possibly remain damaged. I would miss an opportunity to reconnect, and repair our relationship.
Uncovering a shared meaning takes work and risk. It means facing truths I may not want to hear about myself, my faults, and my shortcomings. However, setting my ego aside allows me to nurture and repair the relationships in my life. I can write a lone script, or I can write a story that encompasses the perspective of others. If the script I write of my own life is without the perspective of others it will read very differently than the one I co-create with others. The choices I make are dependent upon my willingness to view life through multiple lenses. If I choose to be an adult and to be responsible for my life and my impact on others, rather than give into my ego’s perspective then I will write a story that is authentic and corroborated. This richer, fuller story will embrace the differences in perspectives, truths and will deepen my relationships with others.