making sense or making meaning?

making meaning making sense
Is there a difference for you between making sense of something and making meaning?

For me, making sense is largely, though not completely, a cognitive process. It’s one that facilitates understanding. It is how I comprehend things in the world around me.

So, if I look at the picture above, I might deduce that this is a teddy bear, that this teddy bear looks soft. He is brown. I know that teddy bears are toys, that often children have them. I might make sense of this teddy bear as a child’s teddy bear. A bear that has been posed to cover his eyes. Equally I might understand that teddy bears can be adult gifts to reflect tenderness, affection, love. I might be curious about the teddy bear’s size, because I know bears come in many sizes, and without background in the picture to contextualise and offer perspective I have to surmise whether it is small or large.

Making sense in this way is how we exchange and gather knowledge about our world, how things work, how to use them, their purpose.

Meaning making and seeking meaning however are inherently human processes at the heart of our humanity. Making meaning facilitates significance. It bonds us to our purpose and sense of self and creates a richer, deeper connection than simply understanding, or making sense. It highlights patterns to aid with new learning, new connections and systemic thinking. It stirs our emotions. It connects us to our experience, our memories, our values, our personal story. In short, it makes us human.

So, for me, the bear picture might remind me of my own teddy bears from my childhood. I might connect to the memories of my own children and their lives now as young adults, way beyond the teddy bear years. I might notice the teddy bear makes me sad and I might recall other times I have been sad. It might equally remind me of happy times. It might remind me that I too sometimes hide. Or that I like a hug. It may bring back memories of parents, of childhood games, of key events in my human story.

In this way meaning making is important. It connects our world experiences, our interactions to people, to activities and to things with our own sense of self. It connects us to our memories, and to our personal story through a deeper somatic awareness. It is more impactful, but also more useful, in that it enables us to form both new and tangential connections, which offer new learning, new meaning and new possible futures.

I can be taught to understand the world around me, to make sense of it, but making meaning of it is a very personal experience.

Maybe it’s the same for you?

2 thoughts on “making sense or making meaning?

  1. Interesting differentiation, Steve. I can’t help but wonder at an MBTI link between the two processes. One is perhaps more T (with an S or N flavour to it) and the other is more F, perhaps erring to the NF side…? This draws me to thoughts of what each of those combinations offers in terms of leadership style. Then I start to notice my own sense-making of your blog and I start to wonder what it MEANS to me. It touches a nerve around my own growth as a person, parent, coach, etc: the feeling of being overly intellectual and wanting to be really damned clever, but deep down, beneath all the layers of defensiveness and amygdala-hijacking conditioning at school, there’s the core of me that only ever really wanted to do good in the world. And I realise that the examples of ‘meaning’ you give in the teddy bear example are all about ‘what this bear means to me’ and that my own reflections on your blog have the same internally focused quality to them. And that brings me to the question ‘what does this blog – and the challenge it holds up to humanity – mean for us?’

    And then I realise it’s Friday at 6pm, I’m sat at my desk being wonderfully stimulated by reading your blogs, and my daughter’s on her way home from school and in 2hrs I’ll be meeting a bunch of school dads whose search for meaning this evening (like mine) will be primarily via the bottom of a pint glass. :o)


    1. Thanks Richard. Maybe we all seek companionship and solitude? Whether I or E ๐Ÿ™‚
      Togetherness with friends or soulmates, to share stories, make connection and to belong. Then time alone with our thoughts – time to make meaning perhaps?
      Hope the beer was good ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿ‘


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