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Making sense of making sense

Posted Apr 11 2013 11:53am

This post is the result of many conversations with a friend.  We talked about making sense: making sense out of life, making sense of other people, of good things and bad things and perhaps most of all, sense of ourselves.  We talked about clarity and what muddied the waters.  We talked about being clear only to discover that the waters were muddy and we were the ones stirring.   We talked about being so human and so fallible. We talked about not making bad situations worse. We talked about tools and doing what worked and building on success.

He talked about what had worked with him.  I told him what was sense for me.  He liked what I said and suggested I write it out.  What follows is a merging of many things.  It is things read, things found out in life, things tried with other people.  I am not sure that any of it is that original.  Some of it I have been doing for so long though I have just forgotten where it first came from.  Somehow things that come to seem common sense seem to have been forever. 

I talk about making sense as dealing with 4 questions.  Although I present them sequentially I am not sure that they are usually so convenient.  They are more like parallel processes always going on, each related to the others.  It is hard enough to see.  It is so much harder to see how we see.  It may even be a fruitless exercise.  Being human gets in the way of so much.


  • What-  The first question is “what happened?”  If you were asked to describe your experience as a video what would people see?  What would happen first…second….third… and so on.  We all distort.  We remember the things that make us look good or that make others look bad.  We leave out the links of experience or put in links that were never there.  We construct what we see as much as we see it.  Have you ever been upset and someone asked you what was wrong…what happened… and about two minutes into your description you realize that you are making a big deal about nothing.  I know I have many, many times.  What happened is many times the single most important question you can ask other people in trying to understand or connect with them.  The more accurate our answers are to the question of what happened the more likely we are to see behaviors as a function of circumstances and less a function of someone character or motivation.  It is a way to process experience that opens door rather than shuts them.
  • So what-  What is the significance of what happened?  What does it mean?  Was the event you are dealing with important?  So often I have went into passionate battle about things that werent even important.  I have known people whose lives are nothing more than the passionate pursuit of small injustices.  Instead of assuming importance examine it.  Are your feelings accurate or justified?  Have you made things personal that were not personal?  Have you assumed motivation you dont know or never checked out?  Is something really going to mess everything up and mess it up forever?  Check the evidence.  Is there an alternate explanation that makes as much sense.  People go off half-cocked all the time, frequently about the same issues or things time after time.  If your feelings are justified can you do anything about it??  Much wisdom and much strength is tied up in knowing when we cant do anything.  Often emotional intensity tells us we should do something when a few minutes reflection will tell us there is nothing we can do.  How many times have you tried to teach someone a lesson that was pointless, irrelevant, or that simply made everything much worse?  If it is important,  if it is justified, if you can do something about it-  is it worth the effort?  What are the consequences to yourself, to others and to the situation?  Someone once told me the most dangerous things in life were not our problems, but our solutions.  Dont just think before you act.  Think twice.
  • Now what-  What is the plan?  What are you going to do?  Are you able to do it?  Do you want to do it?  Do you have support in doing it?  Is it going to make things better or not?  Sometimes you may decide that your original reaction was in error and all you need to do it let things go and turn your attention elsewhere.  Sometimes you may decide you cant do anything about it and your plan may be about how you can accept what you cant change.  Sometimes you may decide you can do something though and then the question becomes doing something that works, that addresses the problems and the issues.  If you want to make something different, then do something that makes a difference.  Plan your first step and it makes those that follow so much more likely.
  • What now-  How do you evaluate and if necessary change what you are doing?  More solutions to more things have died from lack of attention to this as to anything.  Without this you may not even know you have been successful.  It is the key to learning from your experience.  It means not beating your head on the same walls forever when there is a door to see.  It is so critical.

What, so what, now what, what now…They are simple questions that can really help to make sense out of our experience, our relationships with others, and the course of out life.  For me I mess up frequently on each one of this questions.  I often find my perspectives are distorted and I see more of what I want to see than what there really was to see.  I often make things worse than they really are and dont always appreciate positive things as well as I would like to .  Many times my plans are not very good and dont really solve much.  And way too many times I dont stop and really look at I am doing and lose a chance to to learn from experience.  But when I do work them they really do seem to work and make a difference.

Like I said these are just some of my ideas.  I dont know if they will work for you or even have relevance for your experience.  I would like to hear more from you about how you deal with some of the issues covered in this post.  I would really like to know what works for you.  Success really matters and perhaps in your success I can learn something to make my own more likely.

Thanks for your time and thought.

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