Elsewhere I have noted the lack of words that can accurately capture a feeling, or reliably create a feeling in others. At best, words can only allude to some different perspective than to which the person is accustomed. Since new feelings are most of what we’re after here, it can be a little frustrating when words are the medium.
Sometimes, when I use the word “experience”, I forget that not everyone gets my reference. This word is such a staple for what I teach that I become immersed in our meaning, not the common one.
So, there I was recently in a conversation with someone about primal lifestyles (historic lifestyle patterns of humans prior to 5,000 years ago), and expressing my view that environment and those habits enhanced the experience of human life.
My cohort in this exchange—someone who embraced modern life fully—shot back with his belief that those were terrible times full of hardship and deprivation. The not-so-subtle message was that I must be crazy to suggest that those were in any way better times than what we know now. He went on to remind me that I wasn’t there so how could I know how hard life was back then.
I’m certain his position sounded reasonable in his head, but his reaction revealed a serious disconnect between my words and his hearing. This is a common problem with language, and always presents a challenge in any attempt to convey a message about a person’s sense of something.
Most of our verbal and written language has literal meaning and common interpretation. Words about tangible items and recognizable actions are easy to follow and lose very little in the hearing. When we talk about a car, it is something you can touch, smell, and hear. When you talk about a running horse, we all know what that looks like in both form and movement. But those simpler references don’t account for the sum total of human life. So, when we are used to being able to receive words at face value merely because those are the majority of the words we hear, it’s easy to miss deeper messages. These are words used only as signposts and open doors, not as the actual subject.
Such is the case with words about how a human experiences the world and their life. I encounter many people who have never used the words we use for those messages. They are likely to fall back on more simplistic meanings of the words rather than the intended message.
Based on that, can you spot the disconnect in the conversation I mentioned earlier? It was a classic example of this very problem. He interpreted my use of the word “experience” to mean the logistical facts of primal lives. That would be the tangible and simplistic meaning, but that wasn’t my meaning at all. Instead, I was referring to their overall satisfaction with their lives, and a level of fulfillment in them. It is in those very hardships that we know of their general high morale and will to survive.
Even if my friend was technically correct about the logistical nature of their lives, people of those times wouldn’t have been dissatisfied with their reality because they knew nothing else. Any dissatisfaction would only arise if they had some reasonable expectation of something better. Likewise, any disdain we might possess for the ruggedness of those times would only be relative to what we now know is available to us. I contend they were not only satisfied and fulfilled but genuinely happy. Dare I say happier than most of us in modern times.
Humans have an amazing proclivity for happiness; unless they choose something else. But for those that recognize their own role in their satisfaction of life, there is practically nothing that will separate them from their personal joy. Certainly not anything about a primal life. And their experience of their own life is the only experience that matters.
So, we have ample grounds to assume that there was indeed satisfaction with life in those times. I could go further and note that the same can’t be said about modern times. If the sentiments of the typical American can be trusted, our level of satisfaction with our lives today might well be at an all-time low. If you recall the wording of my original statement, the difference in the level of satisfaction between then and now is why I used the word “enhanced”. It was simply a better experience in every way that actually matters.
The message here for all of us is to open our hearing up to meanings that aren’t commonly expressed. It limits the reach of language when we allow ourselves to be locked into the common and simplistic meaning of all words. There may be something much more valuable for you in those same words.
Our experience of life is always ours for the choosing, regardless of circumstances or messages we receive. Those things never determine how we feel unless we allow them to. We know this because each and every one of us perceives those things a bit differently. So, there are no absolutes in language, except the ones we assign. I would encourage everyone to remain open to many meanings in the language you use and hear when it may have to do with the human experience. That would open up whole new avenues of communication and, hopefully, result in better experiences for all of us.