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The Difference Between a Defined Life and a Defining Life

Title: The Difference Between a Defined Life and a Defining Life

Genre: Teaching

Description: We grow up in a social womb that has a powerful defining influence. How do we find our voice in that powerful defining current?

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Narration text:

Some words have meanings that are more directly tied to objects or properties in our world than others. Words like water and flowing, for instance. These abstract tokens we use for the object (water) and a property of (flowing) have a direct connection to the physical expressions with which the words correspond. Other words are less directly tied to well defined objects or properties in nature. Some are highly complex and not easily defined depending on context. Words like truth, honor, beauty, justice, love, equality, morality, and so on. These words can refer to multiple object and-or property roots, shift based on context, as well as be related to other abstractions. This makes them harder to identify, agree on and share without signal loss in comprehension and in the transfer of the idea one to another.

When complex ideas are embedded in communication we can easily talk past each other. Tracing certain abstract tokens back to a clear source is not always easy and may not be possible in some cases. The increased difficulty of communicating with harder to define words results in misunderstandings, as well as increased debate about the definition, validity and the utility of ideas. This can make them less a point of agreement and more a point of contention. Our inability (and sometimes unwillingness) to share common definitions for certain words makes using them as a social currency more risky if agreement is the goal. Mud wrestling about meanings is a common pastime in certain human social circles.

Ideas play many roles in our lives. Among the more prominent roles is that the image rendered through the ideas we hold as true influences how we relate to ourselves and the world. Our maps of meaning can be adaptive or maladaptive. Some ideas that were once valid as a means of nourishing survival can become maladaptive as the context changes. The verbal map of ideas we inherit from the social womb we’re born into is infused with preexisting assumptions that our local group also largely inherited. Tracing the foundation of these ideas to their source to verify their validity and examine their usefulness in the current context can be a virtual impossibility in some cases. Our mental capabilities are not up to the challenge understanding, much less having the discipline to proportionally apply certain ideas even if we could fully understand them.

As children we receive the current version of the map of meaning. This defines our developmental social womb. We receive this map unquestioningly. The ideas supplied to us through the umbilical cord of our caretakers and the environment tunes us to local experiences but is also influenced by the broader culture’s historic relationship with the environment over time. Influencing factors on the shape of the map of meaning include things like the climate and geography, natural events like storms or famine, disease, the nature of the local life forms (each ecosystem having different object and property expressions), and the necessities of the culture to navigate these variables. The local maps of meaning held by a group are shaped by a long history. We inherit these predetermined maps in our own matrix of biological algorithms – these things we experience as emotions and behavioral drives like eating, social bonding and sex drives… all the necessities of navigating the ecosystem over time become embedded in our cultural maps of meaning in ways we’re consciously aware of, in fact, this is what this thing we call consciousness is built on, but this does not mean we are self-aware of the maps of meaning that govern us.

We embody the story told by nature, including our own, in ways we may not have captured visibly through our maps. The presence of this defining process that renders our conscious vision does not necessarily translate to an understanding of the entire set of influences, communicated by the whole of nature, that define our experience. We inherit a low resolution map that might be useful in some cases but that doe s not mean it’s accurate. We can live a life defined by the influences we inherited but in order to participate in the defining process we need to have more than awareness, we need to have some degree of self-awareness.

Because of the difficulty in comprehending ourselves at a self aware level, many of us ride on the currents of ideas and actions set in motion unconsciously in the group body of our culture. In other words; we play a role in a script we didn’t write and we don’t understand. The ideas that govern our vision and actions are deeply steeped in the darkness of time. Many are etched there as scars forged by traumas long forgotten. These influences morph over time into cultural myths, stories and rituals that we simply express as social currency. It does not occur to us to question whether or not they still serve us as a useful map to help us navigate on a path to greater maturity in the current context. We become defined expressions of these necessities of being without understanding our place and role, the reasons we think and behave the way we do. Uncovering these depths of our being is not easy but it’s necessary if the goal is to steer with a measure of intention and effectiveness toward specific ends – to participate in defining our experience rather than being totally defined by it. To become more like the natural world that gave rise to us – as mature self-aware creatures; to also play a defining role.