Meaning Making Together – Constructionist Principle

Words create worlds

The Constructionist Principle of Appreciative Inquiry shows us meaning making comes from the words we use in relationships and how they inform how we engage with each other and the world.  The following story provides an example.

My friend from childhood, Jenny is a nurse, a wife, an animal lover, an excellent gardner, a great cook and a talented artist.  I love her deeply. She’s my dear friend, and even though we’ve had some challenges and times of separation over the years, we continue to be there for each other.

For around 15 years, I equated Jenny with gloom and doom!

She lived her life as if the world were a war zone.  She lived her life in the trenches – all on her own, single-handedly fighting off enemies, all of whom were out to get her: her family didn’t love her; girlfriends were selfish and they abandoned her; boyfriends had been users; she ended up with a mean, miserly husband; she’s had hurtful, nasty bosses; the hospitals she’s worked in have all been living hells with patients, who always complain and don't lift a finger to help themselves.

She was exhausting. She was hard to be around. To be in her company at that time in her life was draining and de-energizing.

Meaning Making in Our Worlds

I tell her story, not because I like it. Happily, she’s long since moved on with help and support. However, that’s the story she lived at the time and I believed her, she believed her and the world performed just as she saw it and expected it would.

And that’s truth! A Truth! It’s just how we talk about stuff, and the language we use to talk about ourselves, our families and friends, our colleagues, bosses, companies, industry, politicians and countries that reveal how we see the world.  It’s how we show up in the world and how the world shows up to and for us.

We see the world we describe, not the other way round.  It's not: We describe the world we see, because when we describe it, we create distinctions that govern our actions. It’s our language and the words we use that shape and create our own truth and reality…and potentially our destinies.

Sure, tragedies happen, financial crises, natural disasters, illnesses and death occur – we don’t choose them, and they change us.  It’s how we describe the events that happen in our lives that determines how we see them and, therefore, how we chose to describe them and consequently respond.  That's the truth, and you know that.

Jenny is now a very different person.  That husband whom she described as mean and miserly, she now describes as loving and generous.  He hasn't changed so much.  She sees him differently and her experience of him is totally different.

A question for you:

How deeply programmed are you to focus on the problem side of life versus the developmental side of life?

If you have children – do you see them as problem children or developing children?   How do their teachers see them?  In our workplaces, how do we see our colleagues and our leaders?  It is all embedded in the beliefs we have which are reinforced through our language.  The language we use shapes our reality.

This is the Constructionist Principle of Appreciative Inquiry: Words create worlds

This Principle emphasizes the role of language and places human communication and conversation at the center of human organizing and change. As people converse and create meaning together, they sow the seeds for action. Our realities are created in communication with others, and knowledge is generated through social interaction.

If the conversation during a tea break is filled with uplifting stories of success, you are likely to contribute your own story of success and all of you will walk away having expanded your understanding of success, building on each other’s ideas and stories.