Tommy Acierno

We Are Meaning-Making Machines

I've been thinking a lot about...well...thinking.

The process of thinking and the inherent drive we share to conceptualize reality and give things meaning (or not).

I'm reminded of Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, which also explores the incredible power we have to imbue things with meaning and how important it is to do so.

We're not the only creatures on this planet that apply meaning to things, but we seem to do something different.

We apply meaning to things totally outside our scope of survival or sphere of influence. An octopus might apply significance to certain fish, sharks, and even scuba divers. But it'll never consider galaxies or planets in our solar system.

Here's another example. Think about an ant and a prairie dog in the plains. Above both of them is a hawk circling. To the prairie dog, the hawk is very significant and has many meanings. The ant couldn't care less. But for a human, we have the ability to choose to assign meaning to all three of those animals or not.

We can apply significance and meaning to anything from the ultra-microscopic to the vast universal cosmos.

Or not.

One thing's for sure: we are compelled to apply meaning and significance to things.

And I believe that this is an evolutionary strategy. I'm not an anthropologist or biologist, but I can see how it would help.

If we consider things in our environment and attach a variety of meanings to them, we also find creative ways to interact with that environment. I believe that's how we became so capable at creating tools. We applied meaning to certain materials and saw various ways to manipulate them to achieve certain goals (which also have meaning).

We look for meaning in our thoughts.

We look for meaning in our emotions.

We look for meaning in our relationships.

We look for (and assign) meaning in so many ways to so many things.

Yet there's more. Because we have this ability, we also have the power to choose what meaning we give.

At the beginning of 2023, I was laid off from a role that I loved. Understandably, I thought this was a very bad, challenging, and difficult experience. That's the meaning that I applied. Near the end of 2023, however, I finally recognized this meaning that I applied to being laid off.

Once I had this insight, it hit me...I could give this experience any meaning that I want!

So I decided that being laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Almost immediately, examples of all the great things that happened as a result of this major change came into my awareness. It didn't take long for this change in perspective to become a real belief of mine. It's not just positive thinking or even "reframing." For me, it's a new truth. It's not the Truth, but it's certainly true for me. As Obi-Wan Kenobi once wisely said to Luke in Return of the Jedi, "You'll find that many of the truths that we cling to depend greatly on our point of view."

We are meaning-making machines.

I believe that this was an evolutionary advantage that has allowed us to see potential and make connections that no other animal (so far) has been able to do.

Your mind will want to apply meaning anyway, so join the party.

Leverage this awesome power to your advantage and apply the meaning that you choose to apply.

And watch what changes in your life.


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