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Know What I Mean?
Issue 84

These days, a whole lot of people seem to ask this question, “Know what I mean?” while not really expecting or waiting for a response.  It seems to me that this question is asked in order to quickly check if we are understood.  A nod works fine as a response.

I’ve just read a book a friend sent me in which two people’s beliefs were compared, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.  It is while I was reading this book that I realize we don’t all mean the same thing when we talk about some concepts.

For instance, what is meant by Happiness?  Freud believed happiness is a form of great physical pleasure, that it comes from an outside experience.  Lewis believed that it is an inner feeling that comes from a connection with God.

Most of us associate happiness with an inner feeling.  But we disagree on what is needed to make people happy.  Moreover, most of us don’t even know what would be necessary and sufficient for our own happiness.

Try it.  What would make you happy?  What is the minimum you would need to be happy?  What would it take to keep you happy regardless of anything else happening in your life?

Not easy to answer, is it?  Nevertheless, we all say we are looking for happiness in our lives.  Isn’t that interesting?  We are looking for something but we don’t know what it would take to get it, we can’t define to ourselves what we mean by it.

There are more concepts like that.  What is justice to you?  What does respect mean?  What is fairness?  Love?  Truth?

What is justice if I take away the need for revenge or punishment?  What is respect if I take away the idea that the other has deserved it in some way?  What is fairness if I don’t see everyone as completely equal to each other?  What is Truth?  Does it even exist outside of each person’s belief system?

I don’t have an easy answer to any of these questions.  And that brings me to question any and all interactions I have with people.  Any time we use words to communicate, are we communicating what we intend to?  Is there even any way of knowing if the other person ever understands what we say.  How often have you realized that you misunderstood someone or that they misunderstood what you meant?

As most of you know, I believe life is an inside job.  I believe that my perceptions determine the experience I have of the world and of everything and everyone in it.  This means that I have my own truth, my own sense of fairness, of justice, of what is right and wrong.  These perceptions of mine come from a combination of my upbringing, my education, where I lived, the people I’ve known, the places I’ve seen, and more, I’m sure.

Nobody has had the very same life as I am having.  Nobody has the same perceptions.  So how could we all have the same understanding of what is out there?  If there is even something “out there” that is not put there by something within us.

This seems (even to me) to be a lot of blah-blah-blah!  But my point is this: I’ve come to a point in my life where I believe I have two ears and only one mouth for a very good reason.  I want to listen more and talk less.  I want to put myself in an open, listening space where what the other person means becomes clear with time.

In order to do that, I need to be quiet.  Not just in silence, but in my mind.  When people speak, my mind is usually busy formulating a response (that is, if it’s not busy deciding what I need to do after the talker shuts up!).  My mind is all over the place; it’s not being quiet at all.

How can I expect to really hear and understand what anyone says when I’m in that kind of busy inner space?  I can’t.

Factor in the different ways we use words, the different meanings we give the same words and experiences and we get a lack of understanding of one another that, I believe, explains most if not all of the difficulties our world is facing.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”  What Ghandi’s words mean to me now is that I must do my very best to understand where people are coming from when they say or do anything at all.

Which means I can’t judge anyone.  My mission-- if I choose to accept it --is to understand the motivation, the reason or reasons behind everything.  My choice is to view everything with loving understanding, my very definition of wisdom.

 

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The most terrible actions, those that produce the worst pain, still have a reason behind them, an explanation that becomes clear when we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.

There is an attitude described in the Conversations with God books that I just love.  It says, when someone is hurting you, the most loving thing to do is ask the following question, “What hurts you so much that you feel you need to hurt me in order to feel better?”  Healing is what is needed, not punishment.

Imagine if we did that instead of retaliating, punishing, or trying to find someone to blame for the bad stuff that happens to us.

When has anything ever gotten better after we find someone to blame and punish them?  I understand that this would need a major shift in the way we do things in our society.  But, really, how can we think that continuing to do what we’ve been doing would ever get anything but what we’ve been getting? That is, as they say, the very definition of insanity.

Anyone want to stop the insanity?

I certainly do and I believe the way to do that is to ‘be the change I want to see in the world’.  To stop thinking I know what people mean by their words, by their actions and find out what they are really trying to do, to say, to convey with their very way of being.

I know what I believe when I talk of Truth, Justice, Fairness, Respect, and Happiness.  But I cannot expect anyone, much less everyone, to agree with me, to even know what I mean.

What I do expect of myself is to put aside my own definition of anything at all and see others as human beings living their lives to the best of their abilities, doing what they believe is appropriate in all circumstances.

This is what Freud did, this is what C.S. Lewis did even if neither agreed with the other.  This is what every one of us does.  As CwG states, “Nobody does anything inappropriate considering their view of the world.”

I have my own view of the world.  One that I enjoy.  One that works for me.  Part of my perspective is to believe by changing myself, I will effect change in the world.

The first step is to be aware of who I am, what I would wish to see in the world, and to see which part of me needs to shift in order to produce the change I want to see,  Then I need to go Nike and, “Just do it!”

In order to do that, I need to look at myself with a level of honesty that is not always comfortable.  But I pledge to do my best.  That’s all I can do.

Know what I mean?