From: L. Michael Hall
2023 Neurons #3
January 16, 2023
Experience Series #2
IS NOT THE MEANING
If there’s any misbelief, myth, misunderstanding, and false perspective that influences just about everyone, it is the idea that your experiences determine your meanings. That’s wrong. It’s wrong on many accounts. And it is an error that undermines the quality of life, the response-power of a person, that denies a person joy and hope, and that misdirects how to cope with experiences.
To give you an idea of how pervasive this deadly idea is, consider the following statements. Sadly, they are as common as they are erroneous and misleading.
“Losing my dream job means I’ll never find another one as good.”
“I can’t help but feel depressed, everyone does when they go through a divorce.”
“I can’t help but being negative. The way I was treated as a child has made me the pessimistic person that I am today.”
“You don’t understand what being molested does to a person, it’s something that you don’t just get over, you carry it with you all the days of your life.”
“What I want is to fall in love because then I would feel really good about myself and have the high self-esteem that I have always wanted.”
“We’re social beings so needing approval is just built in, so don’t tell me that I need to have thicker skin and not take criticism so personal.”
The hidden idea behind all of these is that your experiences determine your life. They determine your meanings, your emotions, and your responses. And what we can infer behind that is that you have very limited range of responses when you have certain experiences. If you have had X-given experience, then you are pretty much fated to think, feel, speak, and act in a certain way. And to make that more explicit: you can’t help yourself. You have to feel depressed if you had a loss. You have to feel suicidal if you were publically humiliated. You have to feel an insolvable grief if you lost the love of your life.
If experience determines life, then we are all in a pretty desperate and pretty much hopeless situation. However, there’s good news—experience does not determine your response! In fact, whatever happens, whatever experience you have or go through—you have a whole range of ways to respond. This is worth writing down— whatever the experience, you have many choices about how to interpret it.
The truth is that you have the power inside you to choose your response. That’s why we have the word, response-ability or response-power. You can determine what your experience means and how to perceive it. You can draw a whole range of different conclusions about the experience so that you can give it the best one possible. In this way, you have the power to fashion your world, your thinking, your emoting, your coping, and your mastering of your life situations. The power does not belong to the experience, to the event—it belongs to you. You are the meaning-maker.
Alfred Adler spoke to this subject in his book, Understanding Human Nature (1927). There he argued that the key is how a person interprets the experience and that from that conclusion he creates his how “style of life” which he will then project onto other experiences.
“We must remember that any experience may have many interpretations. We will find that there are no two people who will draw the same conclusion from a similar experience. This accounts for the fact that our experiences do not always make us any cleverer.” (1927, p. 20)
Whatever you have experienced is just that—an experience. What that experience means, however, depends on you. It depends on how you think about it, perceive it, reason about it, draw conclusions from it, in a word—how you interpret it and give it meaning. And whatever meaning you give it, that’s the semantics that you have created and from that will come your neurology, your emotions, your body sensations, your physiology, your felt life. Together we now have your neuro-semantic reality.
It is in this way that we say that you have a neuro-semantic nature. And the key is your semantics, your meaning-making powers. That’s what enables you to live with hope and optimism, with resilience and determination, and to make your life a work of art.