Books are not meant to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means. -Umberto Eco
The quote above can lead some to say, “That’s foolish! It says what it means, and means what it says!”
A clue to the challenge of the quote is that meaning is more tied to value than to facts. People commonly give facts to support certain values. But facts alone don’t reveal these values commonly. That’s because value is part of the affective part of our being, rather than cognitive or behavioral Also, part of the affective part of ourselves is our emotions. In fact, it is hard to draw clear boundaries between emotions and values— they are intertwined.
If, then, one wants to know what something means to another, listen to emotion or feeling words. Take the following example.
John says, “My uncle died yesterday.”
Now you know the facts, but what does that really MEAN to John? You can only guess. Rather than guessing, you could ask, “Oh my… you does that make you feel?”
John could give many different responses.
- “I’m so very sad. He was like a second father to me.”
- “Happy! He hurt everyone he knew. I’m glad he’s gone.”
- “I feel lost. He was paying for my schooling. What do I do now?”
- “Angry! He was supposed to take care of my auntie. Instead, he drank himself to death.”
- “I don’t know. I don’t feel much of anything. I barely knew him.”
When we talk to people… we need to focus less on facts than meaning.