The power of words has been an ongoing point of fascination for me.  I am always astounded by the salience of our word choice and how that choice has lasting effects on every facet of our lives.  I also stand in wonder at how the way we say what we say is paramount in creating “Shared Meaning” (the definition of communication).

I came to the realization some time ago that communication scholars did not get it all wrong.  The way we communicate with one another is truly an area of study that can add great value to all of our quality of life.  In graduate school, I studied a communication axiom called “the arbitrary nature of words.”  The basic assumptions in this field of study are the following:

1. Words are a collection of symbols; nothing more, nothing less. There is no inherent meaning in the symbols S-T-O-P, we (humans) assign meaning to those letters, and re(act) accordingly. Therefore, …

2. Meanings are in people, not in words. Since we assign the meanings, meanings are in us.

Communication takes place when the meaning that is in you is shared by the meaning in me.  I am learning in my marriage, in my work, in my friendships; the only way to achieve a true communicative moment is  to be quiet long enough to hear the meanings in others.

Unfortunately for the generations attempting to coexist in this global society, we have few communicative moments.  Today we hear symbols like “tea party” or “socialist” or “cowardice” or even “depression.”  These collection of inherently dead symbols have come alive across headlines and websites, dinner tables and water coolers, family reunions and religious services.  At nearly every point of discussion, the meanings are diverse and the people are passionate.  We own our meanings and that’s our final answer!

There is an amazing twist to this too-often tragically ending phenomenon.  If we listen actively, we share more meaning than we allow.

I have sat down and stood flat-foot at tables and in rooms with some of the most conservative ideals and the most liberal.  And the truth of the matter is, we all want most of the same things.  Our problem as a global society is that we have thick problems and we’re trying to out-talk each other into a solution.  It’s like James Brown said “…talkin’ loud and ain’t sayin’ nothing; like a dull knife, it just ain’t cuttin’.”

we cannot cut through centuries of unresolved discourse and action with the dull knife of loud talking and meaning missing jargon.  WE MUST shut-up long enough to hear the meaning in others, so we can better see ourselves.

For your reflection:

Peace and Blessings,


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