Your party comes around a bend in the path. Running towards you, sword drawn is a half-orc fighter. What do you do?
What does it mean that this half-orc is running toward you? What does it mean he has his sword drawn?
The meaning you attach to that will change what you do next.
If you fail your perception check, you may decide that half-org with the sword is attaching you. If you succeed you might notice the Minotaur chasing him. He’s not running toward you, but rather away from something.
The action is exactly the same, but the meaning is different.
One of the weird things about life is that we make most of it up. I don’t mean we make up the facts, the external events that happen to us, but we do make up what those things mean.
If your political candidate loses an election, that means there is going to be blood in the streets and concentration camps will replace shopping malls.
OK, that may be an exaggeration but we generally make up meanings to events.
Sometimes we make up meanings out of ignorance. We might see a spider and become sure it will bite us and kill us. But most spiders don’t bite humans and even fewer would do any damage at all.
But a spider bite means death because that is the only thing we know about spider bites.
Sometimes we make up meaning based on what we fear will happen. If you lose your job, you’re probably going to starve to death, lose your home, and be living on the street.
Not necessarily in that order.
Sometime we make up things based not on our fears but on our hopes. You lose your job and think, “Now I will be able to grow my side hustle into a sustainable business.”
Or “He’ll change when we get married.”
These are all hallucinations. Fantasies, both good and bad about what will happen because of events.
To quote Mark Twain,
I’ve lived through many tragedies, some of which were even true.
It goes beyond events and their imagined outcome. It also is a big part of interpreting communication.
As we talked about in our words series, words have definitions, but they are fluid and in the minds of the hearer. So we define words to have certain meanings.
It goes beyond words. How many of you have ever gotten a dirty look? My Mom used to claim these all the time from my Dad.
Or the concept of “Resting Bitch Face” is attaching meaning to certain facial expressions.
Once we create a meaning for something, event or communication, then react not to that event but to what it means.
When we start thinking about the meanings we are creating for things, there are a couple of questions that can be useful.
First, are these meanings accurate?
Second, are they useful?
If you mess-up on a test, then say “I’ll never learn this.” Or “See I can’t do the math.” You’re taking one instance and saying it means everything for all time. This is a generalization.
Generalizations are probably the easiest to see as inaccurate. Just thinking about it for a minute can be all it takes to change the meaning.
Then there is exaggeration. This is when we blow up things to be bigger than they are.
Will concentration camps really be set up in America if your person loses an election?
No, because there are lots of checks on Presidential power. And our government just isn’t that efficient. Plus concentration camps were a very special kind of evil.
When people compare something like the holding centers for immigrants on the Mexican border to concentration camps, it shows a gross misunderstanding of what a concentration camp was.
Even extremely unjust and wrong things like internment camps of Japanese Americans during World War II can’t be compared. Read Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search For Meaning if you want to truly understand what a Nazi Concentration Camp was like.
Exaggeration is often used on you to manipulate you into action. It wants to change your perception of an event to get you to take action.
In the last episode, we talked about how the Internet Plane Demigods focus your attention on certain things. This is where other wizards of words and video make those things bigger, and scarier.
They want to cast cause fear or anger so you will do something other than thinking deeply.
Still sometimes you wish there was a wizard that would cast Fear on you for that thing you keep doing even though you don’t want to.
Which brings us to the second question about meanings. Is it useful?
Believing you are going to have a heart attack if you eat that donut, or miss that workout, is probably inaccurate. But it might be useful if it keeps you from eating that sugar bomb, or gets you to the gym.
I have a speech I do call “You need better fears.” Its basic premise is that the problem isn’t fear, it is what you are afraid of. Are you terrified of talking to that pretty girl at the bar, or are you afraid of not talking to her and missing your chance at happiness?
Are you afraid of making that sales call and getting rejected, or are you afraid of not making sales and losing your job?
Your fears in both cases are based on the meanings you have attached to the actions. Better to choose a useful meaning the will motivate you to a positive outcome.
Question of the Day: Are the meanings you are giving the events of your life helping or hurting you?