Looking for Meaning in All the Right Places
My husband and I love ritual making and find any excuse to create one. As our sons were growing up, we engaged them in meaning making experiences regularly and intentionally. Often we would have special moments before and after family meetings to commemorate a significant event in their lives such as completing all homework for a week or practicing the piano each day. We encouraged times of quiet introspection on family hikes, picnics, or car rides. "What are we supposed to do, Mommy?" "Just rest a moment, put your heads down, close your eyes and think about ____." I put candles on a dinner table of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese and talked about "ways to eat mindfully with gratitude." In all these types of moments, I cherished their delight as they connected what we were doing with something meaningful. They literally lit up as they recognized the extraordinary spinning out of their "ordinary" day—like magic.
These family times of wonder imprinted a sense of connectedness with each other and with the larger picture of life. I took it seriously that I was their guide into connecting with purpose and direction. Any opening I created for them to enter into a time of communion with the meaningful, made me realize I was also helping them appreciate fully what we valued as a family. That's what we do as parents when we take time to stop and bring meaning to a moment through a ritual, an activity, or a discussion. We amplify our values—what is most important for us to impart to them. It may give us pause to realize that if we don't provide that meaning for our children, they will find meaning somewhere, and the meaning they find may not be the meaning we want them to discover.
The human brain has been called, "a meaning-making device." Ever seeking to make sense out of the world, our brains ascribe meaning to everything. It forges ahead to make meaning first, not stopping to consider: "Is this meaning moral, ethical? Good for me?" Only after it has ascribed meaning to an idea or event, will it determine its moral value.
Kids work very hard at making sense out of what they see and hear. A compelling example that I discuss more in my book Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill (please highlight and link to book on amazon) comes from a Canadian research study examining the effects of media violence. A seven year-old boy was being put to bed at night and falling asleep to the Freddy Kruger videos. When the researcher asked him, "Weren't you scared?" he responded, "At first I was afraid, but then I pretended to be Freddy Kruger and I wasn't afraid any more." (1) This child made sense out of traumatic violence by identifying with a psychopathic killer.
We cannot always determine how the child will make meaning about what is presented to him. But one thing we can be sure of: If left on his own, he will ascribe meaning to it that makes the most sense to him at the time. This meaning will be constructed out of his experience base, within his conceptualization of how the world works.
Copyright © Gloria DeGaetano, 2009. All rights reserved. No reprinting rights granted without the author’s permission.
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