Interpreting meaning

Humans like reading meaning into things. It is an urge that has given us both divination and the scientific method. We want there to be meaning and we find it preferable to see the hands of judgemental and angry Gods in our misfortunes than to attribute it to random chance. This determination to find meaning can do us a great deal of harm if we imagine causal relationships where none exist. It can be particularly harmful when we apply it to each other.

We all read things in to each other’s words and actions. Not least, I think, because we’re looking for something that is about us. We want to be significant. There may be more attraction in thinking someone is cross with us than thinking they are tired, or have low blood sugar, or are constipated. It’s similar to the way we prefer to see the anger of gods than random happenstance. At least if people, or the gods are angry with us, we are involved in what’s going on. Being peripheral or irrelevant can feel very uncomfortable indeed.

We are all involved in the business of reading each other, because mostly we make less than perfect sense to each other. The exact ways we use words can vary. A term loaded with dire implication for one person can be empty of that for another. What we hear, what we understand, what was meant and what is admitted to, do not always neatly align. We read each other to try and find meaning or common ground or we hear what we want to hear and refuse all scope for reinterpretation or compromise.

We read each other visually, too. We read for gender and sexual identity, for power and status, for wealth, normality, sanity… We read for signs of membership to small and more secretive groupings. As Pagans we look for sacred symbols on clothes, jewellery and skin to help us find fellow travellers.

We read to validate ourselves. Sometimes, we read what we fear may be true because it is perversely more comforting than changing our stories about how the world works. We read each other for ego boosts and proof of our own excellence. How often we manage to communicate precisely what was meant and no more or less than that, is anyone’s guess.

When two people exchange ideas, two realities collide. It is as though we are each standing in a separate universe that works to different rules. We speak alien languages to each other and make hand gestures that seem obvious to us, and that tell entirely different stories to the other person. We give messages with our bodies, in eye contact, in touch that may be read in myriad unintended ways. But what else is there?

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

2 responses to “Interpreting meaning

  • karenenneagram

    You’re right, of course, because each of us is unique with unique learnt templates about how and how not to communicate, utterly individual modes of communication, ways of holding ideas in our heads, patterns we take for granted and can’t see… areas of pain and even joy that can’t be communicated but in their very hiddenness affect our outwardness…

    And you ask what else is there? In my experience, and in what I teach in the world, there is at least a partial solution in understanding patterns of heart and mind…. the enneagram goes at least back to Pythagoras, the Seal of Humanity. There’s a map. The map is not the terrain, but it certainly helps to de-personalise the clashes.

    When two worlds collide, as they always are doing, as you beautifully say, it helps to know what sort of different language we are speaking. Simon lives in the airy censer of his head, I live in the cauldron of my belly. We have learnt, and are still learning, each other’s worlds and therefore meanings. Still sometimes tricky, and glorious – to discover a little of what that other world comprises and comprehends.

    What else is there? It is so…. and… receptivity, true response.

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