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Meaning means everything by Jim Aitkins


Jim Aitkins is an American writer who is still learning all about life. He finds that learning goes great with a small dose of humour, and we tend to agree. This month, he looks at the associations of words, feelings and spaghetti.


As an American, I am fascinated by some of the differences in word-use between us and our friends in the UK. For example, what Britons call chips we call French fries, which are not French at all. What we call chips the British refer to as crisps.


The differences in our nicknames can get dicey. In the States, we might describe a television as a boob tube. But since that nickname in the UK describes what Americans call a tube top, I should be careful when I am in your country not to announce that I watch the boob tube an average of two hours a week. Although it may very well be true that many men watch both versions of the boob tube an average of two hours per week, it is still good to know the meaning behind the words!


Names are not the only things that mean things. Other things can carry an even stronger meaning. I recall getting violently ill in the middle of the night when I was eight or nine. I had eaten spaghetti for dinner. I had not known that I was already coming down with the flu when I had dinner that night. The flu was why I got sick, not the spaghetti. Still, for years after that event, I associated nausea with spaghetti and I simply could not eat it without feeling ill. Such was the meaning I had attached to spaghetti.


All of this points to a power that all of us are endowed with, but that not enough of us put to good use because we aren’t even aware that we have it. I am referring to our innate ability to attach specific meanings to people and events and to countless miscellaneous things in life. To overlook this area of choice is to miss an opportunity to exert a greater measure of control over your own happiness.


Like yours, my life has been filled with a cloudy mixture of pain and sorrow at one extreme, and with the sunshine of lightness, laughter and joy on the other. I have given and received both. When I realized that I could actually choose whether or not to attach a negative meaning to certain people or to challenging circumstances, I realized I could dramatically decrease the first extreme I might experience in life and dramatically increase the second.

Now, when I encounter a person who tends to complain, I try to remember that I can choose what kind of meaning I will associate with that person. I try to see them as someone who is generously providing me with all kinds of growth opportunities. This person will increase my patience. This person will improve my communication skills. This person will help me to become a better servant to hurting people. And what is your general attitude toward a person who generously gives you valuable things? That’s right: gratitude.


Exercising your right to choose meaning does require discipline. It certainly may call for some creativity. But if you will practice venturing into this exciting area of choice, you will find that it can be life changing – even dramatically so. What kind of people, relationships and new opportunities would you attract into your life if you were to reduce by half the number of things you routinely attach a negative meaning to and, instead, start to think about those things in a different light?


By the way, I am back to loving spaghetti again. I’m glad I decided that I like it. Just last week I had a plate of spaghetti while watching a boob tube.

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