Saturday, November 7, 2009

When Culture Fails Us; Writing a Life Story to Create Meaning

Writing a life story is a way to explore the meaning of our life. Writing life stories is a way to create meaning in our life.

As Lao Tzu says, ultimate reality is a unified, pre-conceptual, formless, timeless, flowing, watery way (the Dao).

We humans have a mind, a knowing, cognitive, representational function, and it creates the world as we know it.

This knowing function also creates our existence, since, in part, we are who we think we are.

And it seems that in order to have a human existence, we have to have a story that is meaningful to us. (perhaps at another time we can explore what it means to have a meaningless life story).

Culture is a set of blue prints of meaning that are shared by a group of people who participate in a particular human group--tribe or society, clan or nation. Well acculturated humans derive a lot of their life's meaning from the beliefs which are provided by their culture.

A Human culture is a set of beliefs, a philosphy, a religious or spiritual outlook, a set of folktales or myths and a set of practices or behaivors which people in the culture believe in and carry out, and which give meaning to the individuals who believe and act in those shared ways.

Some Cultures teach that it is heroic deeds which define the worth of an individual and that dying in a heroic cause that is in the service of defending others is the highest form of meaning. In such a culture people will be eager to show their bravery in the face of dangers that threaten others and they may even die in the defense of their friends or tribe or state. They will find it meaningful to do so because they share in the belief system of the culture which endorses this kind of meaning.

In some other cultures meaning may be defined in terms of competence and the ability to solve problems in new and novel ways. In such cultures people may be eager to show their intelligence and creativity in order to provide new ways of doing things which are of benefit to themselves and the group.

There is usually more than one blueprint for meaning available in most cultures (there are different roles available to different individuals). In a coherent and well functioning culture, most people will find a set of meanings to guide their lives and to keep themselves well integrated and well functioning.

What happens when a particular person in a culture isn't properly taught the cultural meaning system? Or when a particular cultural system isn't well suited to an individual born into the culture (someone who has a temperment or abilities that don't fit well with the cultural meanings that are available in that social group)? Or what happens when the culture itself is in disarray, in transition, or failing to adapt well to changing conditions?

This situation creates both a challenge and an opportunity. Since we can't be healthy without finding meaning in life, we will have to find some way to create meaning or discover it outside of the culture we are being offered, if meaning isn't provided by our culture in a form we can use. This challenge may be stressful and it is also an opportunity to experience Freedom, since we are asked to use more of our own intelligence and creativity to make choices that give meaning to our lives.

Writing a life story is a way to explore the meaning of our life. Writing life stories is a way to create meaning in our life.

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