Meaning is an interesting concept. Looking at words like healing, work, or empathy, most people will immediately confirm that they understand what they mean.
And there is no doubt, that they have an idea of what they mean.
What they rarely have though is an understanding that is common with the one others have.
And it somewhat is normal as most people will connect the word with a context that is personal to them. And they will use their experience to give meaning to these words.
The task then is to allow for common meaning, one others can refer to.
Take for example work. I’ve regularly seen teams and individuals exclude learning, workshops, or meetings from their understanding of work. At the same time, they struggle with the fact that their presence in the workplace usually has more hours than “work being done”.
It’s the dilemma that they can’t see a clear connection between the result of their work and the result of being together. If they look at a result, they look at the output they have created on their own. They rarely appreciate the contribution they have made to the ability of the team to create a common result as a part of their work.
Beyond this, there is the way they value work. People rarely revisit their conception of what work is. They might have learned as children that work is doing one’s homework, or they might have learned, later on, that work is their ability to respond to crisis situations, or simply the things they are recognized for.
Work is the application of a method we’ve learned and combine with our experience. This also means, that doing work describes the action of working. It describes the journey. It isn’t the result.
To give work meaning, it is necessary to be able to do the work at our best and know what it leads us to.
It requires that we define a result that can be valued and that can be described according to our values and the norms we link with that result.
Taking healing as an example. In Transactional Analysis, the action of healing leads to autonomy. Where autonomy is described as the presence of awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy or vulnerability. What this implies is the person’s ability to solve problems using their full resources. Consequently, in other practices, healing would be described differently.
When it comes to listening, then empathy is there to develop an open heart. It needs engagement in the real dialogue and giving attention to the other. It’s there when being able to see the situation through the eyes of someone else. It’s more than saying “I know how you feel”. It’s sensing how it feels to the other.
Connecting journey and result is there to remain flexible. It helps to do work one is proud of. It avoids becoming attached to either the outcome or the journey.