Event from Meaning

Event from Meaning: What happened is different from the story that I tell about what happened. How I make meaning about the events in my life is very important. But the meaning I make and the story I tell about the event (proximal) are not the same as the event itself (distal). Indeed, others who experienced the same event may find it to mean something very different from what it means to me.

The distinction we want to notice here is a bit more subtle than that of cause and effect. On the one hand there was an actual event which occurred in the shared space of the relationship. Everyone was affected by the shared event. But not everyone was affected the same and some of the difference comes from how meaning is made by each person about the event.

When Jane came into the living room and pointed out that Joe's dirty clothes were still on the bedroom floor [the event], Joe was irritated that she was interrupting the game and stung by the shame of not having done what he said he would do [the effect]. Jane was proud of herself for being able to speak up for herself [another effect].

Thus what this event means to Joe is that Jane is interrupting and shaming him and what it means to Jane is that she is an assertive woman.

Joe knows what happened. But if he thinks what happened is what he makes it mean, then he is reacting to his meaning, not to the events. For example, he may think Jane dressed to impress some other guy. He knows that she left home looking good, but he doesn't know whether she was making a special effort today or why. He may think that Jane decided not to pick up when he called her. He knows that he called and that she didn't answer, but he doesn't know if she was in a dead zone, had her ringer off, or was talking to someone else and decided not to click over.

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