Updated: Apr 20, 2021
Our experiences influence how we interpret the world and how we ascribe meaning. Because those experiences are relational, the way we ascribe meaning is also relational.
By calling experiences “relational,” we acknowledge that the things which one does, observes, takes part in, etc. are not defined by nor do they belong to that person exclusively. By calling meaning “relational,” we acknowledge that the meaning of one thing depends on the ways that we think about it in relation to other things.
Meaning that we assign to particular beings, items or events can be plural. For instance, this week has been unseasonably dry and sunny for April in the Willamette Valley. Today, that means that I get to write to you from my backyard. It means summer is on the way. Yet, because last summer ended with most Oregonians, and West Coasters in general, watching ash fall from the sky, it’s hard to greet a dry, warm week in April with 100% pleasure. This week’s weather, combined with last week’s and the prediction for next week’s means that many of us will be holding our breaths through the summer. For people who might not be familiar with the relationship between rain now and fire later, this week could mean something else entirely. Some who have never seen a red sky would likely have a different emotional response. This week’s weather carries multiple meanings, different for each of us.
I talk to others in my community about today’s weather. We end up telling stories about where we were when the rare westward wind pushed a blanket of smoke over the city last year. As we do so, we are ascribing meaning to this week’s weather together, connecting our experiences. Our memories and even the setting in which we are talking contribute to meaning-making as well.
We can abbreviate the jumble of experiences and relationality. We will call it a perspective. When we use this shorthand, it is important to remember all that we are jamming into the word perspective. My perspective on this week’s weather encompasses my life experiences, my work, my conversations with friends and people in my community, and so much more. It reflects what I think and how I feel. Such are each of our perspectives.
When I came up with the idea for this series, one of the things that felt important to me was that it served to help my readers and me find common ground with those in our communities. I have wondered recently if all the attention given to “divides,” whether they are political, racial, cultural, generational, occupational, or educational, can make it difficult to see the complexity of different perspectives and, importantly, can it cause us to overlook the space that we share? When I think about the false choices I am presented with regularly—support university education or trade schools, fight for climate legislation or the rights of fossil fuel workers, care about the safety of people of color or the safety of police—I am confident that the answer to that question is a resounding YES! So, I asked myself, how do we embrace the complexities of each other’s perspectives? How do we find common ground? This series may not be perfect for the task, but I hope it will provide a space for us to begin to answer these questions for ourselves. Shall we begin?
In the next few days, gain a perspective! Find differences in lived experiences and similarities in values between yourself and those around you by seeking out a conversation, a book, or a story that you might not usually pay much attention to. This might mean picking up a book written by someone whose struggles have been significantly different from yours, or asking a friend from a different place how they think about the things that you worry most about.
Reflect. When you think in terms of multifaceted perspectives rather than divides, what common ground do you find? When in your life are you presented with false choices that overlook the complexity of meaning-making and ignore shared values or experience?
If you are interested in submitting a response, as noted in the introduction, it can be written or created in any other way. You do not need to answer all those questions. Pick the ones that resonate with you. Carry them, if you wish, throughout your week and see what you notice. Send your responses to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Meet Me Where We Are- Thoughtful Beginnings.” I will post a compilation of (some of) the responses on April 22, so get them in by the 21st to be included!
Some Gratitude- just like our experiences, so much of writing is relational. So each week I'll send out a little gratitude for those who are part of my process. I have to start with my wonderful sister, Amy, who provides feedback and translates these pieces to Spanish! Responses in Spanish are welcome!