What proceeded was a healthy debate about meaning (that somehow moved to religion and whether or not the biblical figure Paul actually longed for death… but that’s not really what I want to go into here). My rebuttal to my friend’s comment was that I suppose that is one point of view for the statement, though I felt that it was a somewhat pessimistic one, but that I felt that it had a different meaning all together.
In NLP and strategic intervention coaching we have a saying that goes “Nothing has any meaning except for the meaning that we give to it.” What this concept basically convey is the idea that we are ones who choose the meaning that we are going to give to something; an event, a person, an action, an idea. So I believe that Williams was talking about is this very concept, that everything could have been anything else, and it would still have just as much meaning to us.
I could have married a different woman and had a different child or even more children and they would still have just as much meaning to me as those that I have in my life now. I could have been born in another country, to another set of parents, in a different time, and, even though my values and expeiences may have been different as a result, it still would have had significant meaning to me. Why? Because the meaning that I give to something, anything, is the meaning that I give to it. It has no inherent meaning or value in and of itself because the meaning and the experience are synonymous. The person having the experience is the one giving that experience the meaning that is creating the experience.
Another interesting aspect of this is emotion. The meaning that we give to something becomes the experience of that thing, and it stirs our emotions about that thing as well. Another concept that we use in strategic itnervention coaching is the idea that emotions don’t come to us, we go to them. We do this because our emotions are really the body’s response to what is going on in the mind, and our emotions move us to certain actions; anger, love, frustration, tears, laughter, and so on, producing chemical connections in our brain and strengthing our nuero-network pathways, making it easier to get that emaition in the futre. But our emotions are also an attempt to control or influence our environment to one that is more suitable to our liking, and, because the pathways are developed over our life time, we become more and more efficient at getting to certain emotions and having certain kinds of experiences.
So let’s put this all together. Emotions don’t come to us, we go to them. And we go to them because we believe, based upon our interprtations of past experiences, that they serve us. They serve us getting us to take actions to control our environment so that the environment conforms to the experience that we want to have. AND Nothing has any meaning except for the meaning that we give to it. And we give it that meaning because we want to, what? Control our experience, yes, but also because the experience drives us to the emotions that we feel we need to use to control the environment, so that we can have the experience that we want.
In other words, the meaning we give to a circumstance, or a statement, or someone else’s actions is the meaning that we need to give to it so that we can have the emotional response we need to have in order to control our experience. So it could be said that the meaning, the experience, and the emotions are all attempts to control circumstances or other people so that we can have what we want.
But what happens if you give the circumstance, or the statement, or action a different meaning? What if the other person’s actions are not all about you? What if they are just trying to have a particular experience and they only have a limited set of tools to control their environment so that they can have that experience. If you change the meaning, do you not also change your experience, and your emotional response to it? What if you just decided to give it a meaning that serves your experience?