Do You Attach Meaning?


MeaningTechnology has brought us many gifts. It has also brought us the age of entertainment news, citizen journalism, sensationalism of celebrity, anonymous commentary, and another level of exposure to the gullibility of people (“It must be true, I read it on the Internet!”).

For instance, listen to any radio or television show where the public can call in and you will commonly hear people attach meaning to facts and opinions. Some are clearly expressing their opinion. However, many others are challenged to separate opinion from facts.

The more passionate the individual, the harder they usually ignore the boundaries between facts, opinions, rumors, and even known lies. For some, there is no difference between fact, opinion, rumor and known lies. These are usually the most difficult people to have a reasonable discussion with because they are usually driven by an intense need to be right. That need to be right (and for you to be wrong) is often greater than any desire to genuinely share information or learn something themselves.

I contend that most people who “attach meaning” sincerely, but incorrectly, believe they have “found meaning.” But it is not really the same thing. What is the difference?

  • Attaching meaning is an assignment.
  • Finding meaning is a discovery.

To elaborate on this concept:

  • Attaching meaning is usually selective and limiting.
  • Finding meaning opens up new opportunities.
  • Attaching meaning is often part of proving someone else wrong.
  • Finding meaning is about discovering what is right, no matter who that may be.
  • Attaching meaning  requires little thought. It is a lazy method for drawing conclusions.
  • Finding meaning requires effort and consideration to understand different options, views, and perspectives.
  • Attaching meaning is often associated with headlines, not details.
  • Finding meaning needs details, even details we may disagree with, to understand the issue.
  • Attaching meaning is a fast excuse to ignore other facts.
  • Finding meaning seeks to collect different facts, usually from different perspectives.
  • Attaching meaning forces a vicious cycle of flawed thinking. That is, once a meaning is attached, it must be supported (and defended), even if that support can only come by incorrectly attaching more meanings to more ideas.
  • Finding meaning creates an opportunity to explore more ideas, ideas not blocked by the need to be right.
  • Attaching meaning is about forcing victory, regardless of the price to ourselves or others.
  • Finding meaning is about seeing the discussion as a voyage of discovery, not a battle.
  • Attaching meaning requires other information, without valid consideration, to be deemed inaccurate or wrong.
  • Finding meaning requires valid consideration.
  • Attaching meaning often works backwards from a conclusion. That is, an answer is chosen and then only information that preserves this answer is considered meaningful.
  • Finding meaning begins without a conclusion and, along the way, conclusions may change as more is learned.
  • Attaching meaning is forceful.
  • Finding meaning is receptive.
  • Attaching meaning often has roots in fear, doubt, anger and reaction.
  • Finding meaning often has roots in wonder, interest, and openness.

We all fool ourselves to some extent. After all, our experiences, culture, attitudes, hopes, and plans all influence how we see the world. However, when our bias or our need to win overrides empathy and understanding we damage our ability to communicate, learn, and grow.


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.