Recently I am struck by how interwoven and consistent a person’s interior world can be. We have assumptions about the world, other people’s intentions and our own intentions, and these assumptions create a consistent, interrelated understanding of the world. When we assume another person has a certain kind of intention, it also means at some deep level we believe the same thing about ourselves. It is our way of understanding human nature.
Underneath the details of these assumptions resides a set of meaning structures about human nature and the way the world works, and these unexamined meaning structures are applied to our raw experience to form our understanding of ourselves and our world. A great deal of this interpretation we are doing is learned early in our lives, and it has a profound influence on the quality of our everyday life.
For example, suppose there is a married couple and the husband is continually attempting to get the wife to save money, buy cheaper clothes, drive an old car, and stay at home. From the wife’s perspective, he is devaluing her, and it is painful and destructive. From the husband’s perspective, he is devaluing himself. This is happening in two ways: At a superficial level, his wife represents him and so if he devalues her, he devalues himself. At a still deeper level, his motive to devalue another person is a reflection of the extent to which he is devaluing himself internally. This is the part that is, for the most part, invisible to him. He probably does not see that he is devaluing his wife. Or himself. He probably believes that he is being practical and realistic.
From this viewpoint, he operates as if there is a profound scarcity of material objects. But this really results from a stance toward the world based on fear: I will not have enough, I cannot do enough, I cannot be enough. As he goes through his day, he selectively notices evidence that confirms this world view. It reinforces itself over years and years. He chooses a secure job; he tries to control his wife and family; and he denies himself pleasure, even in small ways. This is a person who is trying to hang onto whatever he can get ahold of.
It is an obvious example, but still a true one. Our unexamined meanings create us in ways we may not even want. But underneath these learned constructions lies an undistorted kind of human nature that cannot be lost. We each need to love and be loved; we each need to feel competent; we each need to express our full potential to the extent possible. It is just a matter of how we understand how to fulfill these needs.
By taking the time to discover the many contradictory meaning structures that underlie our experience of life, we can become free to choose which ones truly represent us. We can recognize the pull of habitual ways of seeing the world and we can gradually create new habits of being. Even though it can be difficult to resist our usual ways of understanding things, it becomes increasingly rewarding to have a freedom of being. This in turn creates a momentum toward our best selves.