Meaning is our interpretation of the significance of an event or an experience. Meaning is personal, not universal.
The meaning of words, objects, events, spaces, our actions and the actions of others are colored by context, biology, culture, family heritage, personal values, beliefs, emotions, and the energy of the dynamic.
Words, objects, and actions are the symbols we use to communicate our intention. We do your best to convey our meaning clearly, but the symbols we use often mean something different to us as the communicator than they do to the receiver of our communication.
Our experience is shaped by the significance we give to the symbols we encounter.
We understand that a gift may mean one thing to us, and another thing to the person we give it to. We tend to forget that in all of life, the meaning of an experience or a communication is not universal.
Our culture, family, education, personal history, beliefs, trauma, and our level of emotional and spiritual development influence the meaning we attribute to what we encounter and what we do.
Our expression or interpretation of a communication is influenced by numerous factors. They include
Past trauma: anxiety in a small space, jumpiness at a loud noise
Present circumstance: illness, emotions, pain, stress, event, context
Expectations: length of wait, quality of service, physical surroundings, formality and style of attire
Temperament: response to size of social gathering or the layout of a physical space, according to introversion/extroversion
Perception: what we register and the significance we attribute to what we perceive
Personal history: childhood experience or memory — a space might remind us of our grandmother’s house
Culture: meaning of symbols, use of home, social rituals
Biology: sense of safety, elements of significance in environment/interpersonal space
Our temperament and attachment style will determine what kind of human interaction we find meaningful. We might prefer large social gatherings or visits with an intimate few. Who and what we care about is a personal preference, not a universal preference.
Our values — responsibility for family, financial independence, kindness to strangers, honesty, integrity, religious faith, personal gain, selflessness, progress, social justice — are personal. The more we identify which values motivate our actions and thoughts and color our feelings, the more we are able to communicate and create that which is aligned with our core values.
Objects and the built environment also mean different things for different people. One person needs the objects in his life as signs of status; another keeps trophies from early years as a touchstone to happier times. The rogues’ gallery of photographs in many homes can have different meanings for the inhabitants. The photographs can be reassuring symbols of belonging, a way to honor relatives, reminders of the times when the photographs were taken and/or reminders of people far away.
The symbolic meaning of objects and environments tends to be inherited (even if the meaning is a reaction against what we experienced when young). The child who grew up in a family that gardened may spend an adulthood unconscious of how the ritual of spring mulching evokes childhood springs in the garden with her father. Someone who grew up in a city, without a car, will likely have to learn the habits of car washing as part of the routines of home maintenance. This ritual won’t ever be associated with pride as it might for someone who associates washing his car with the memory of getting his first car as a teenager.
We all have associations, both positive and negative, to places, weather, qualities of light and sound, styles of design, different activities, and rural or urban settings. Most of us are not conscious of these associations.
What is understood by our actions or communication and the energetic, emotional, and sensory information the receiver picks up from our communication are all dependent upon the lens of the perceiver. Your job is to do all you can to be clear in your communication and to be thoughtful of how others might perceive your communication. However, you always have to remember you can’t control what meaning others impart to their experiences.
If you are sensitive, you are much more aware of the symbolism of actions, objects, spaces and interactions with others than most people. Unfortunately, as a sensitive you can end up with a boat load of misunderstandings about what things mean. Like everyone else, you see the world through your lens of meaning. You assume that the insensitive behavior you experience in the world is deliberate. For a sensitive, to let a dog bark, to hang wind chimes adjacent to a neighbor’s yard, or to speak loudly on a cell phone in a public place would only be possible if one were being deliberately unkind. Part of becoming more effective as a sensitive is understanding the differences between you and those around you. You cease attributing inaccurate meaning to events or experiences.