What Makes a Meaning? A Logoteleological Perspective

By Luis A. Marrero, M.A., RODP, LLP

CEO, Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose

… values cannot be taught; they must be lived. ~ Viktor Frankl

Sitting on one of London’s iconic black cabs on my way to Heathrow Airport, I considered the positive experiences of the past few days, feeling accomplished, at peace, and yes — still at the tailed end of being on a different time zone — tired. I had just spent four wonderful days at the University of Roehampton, sponsor of the International Meaning Conference (30 June – 2 July ,2017). Two of the highlights of the conference was participating in a symposium and facilitating a workshop.

The symposium – Employee Engagement and Organizational Effectiveness, included presenters and fellow members of the International Network on Personal Meaning (INPM), Meaning and Work Division’s (MAWD), Alice Ballantine Dykes, Sharon McCormick, Gordon Medlock, Ken Howard, Shizuka Modica, and Luis Marrero. I could not be prouder of my fellow presenters for their talent and dedication to bring meaning to work and organizations.

The workshop, Coaching for a Meaningful Meaning, was well attended by an engaged audience. During the workshop, among other methods, I introduced meaningful purpose psychology’s (MPP) definitions for meaning, meaningful, meaningless, important and unimportant. I also explained, according to MPP theory, the construct of meanings,[i] and how the MPP Coaching method has benefited clients. As intended, participants had an opportunity to do skill practice. Yet, as a new theory and method, there was at least one person intrigued by MPP’s meaning construct. Here is the story of what followed the workshop….

Curious “Fred”

The counselor was a bit intrigued by Meaningful Purpose Psychology’s (logoteleology) meaning construct. Holding the workshop’s handout and a copy my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology, he approached me and asked, “You state in your book that meanings are made of six meaning types.” Reading from the book, he continues, “Such meaning types, as you call them, are ‘attributes, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, values, and aims’. How did you conclude that?”

For the purpose of protecting his identity, let us call the counselor “Fred”.

After encouraging him to review the sources, I asked Fred if he had ever dealt with a client or patient who suffered in what Frankl called the ‘existential vacuum’. Fred answered in the affirmative.

Here is the dialogue that followed:

Luis: Fred, when this person shared her situation with you, how was she feeling?

Fred: Sad and depressed. Despaired.

Luis: So, is it reasonable to believe that the meaning of her state included feeling sad and depressed? Do feelings mean something?

Fred: Yes, the meaning included feeling sad and depressed. Also, the feeling gave a subjective expression to her meaning state.

Labeling of a sensation is one way to define ‘meaning.’ ~ Sonia March Nevis, Gestalt Therapy

Luis: What was her attitude toward the situation or toward life? Think in terms of having a positive or negative disposition using a like / don’t like continuum.

Fred: Well, she had a negative attitude of defeatism. She was pessimistic about her prospects and view of life.

Luis: Is it possible that a way of uncovering and understanding a meaning is by paying attention to the attitude expressed by the client in some form? If you are able to discern the patient’s or client’s attitude about the meaning given to the circumstances, can you start deducing potential consequence?

Meanings in activities and experiences are easily perceived. More difficult to see is Frankl’s contention that meaning can also be found in attitudes when we face unavoidable suffering.”

…the most hopeful aspect of finding meaning [is] by a change of attitude.” ~ Joseph B. Fraby

Fred: Yes. I see where you are going. What about beliefs, attributes, values and aims? How do those show up?

Luis: Okay, concerning attributes, what does this person think about herself? What does she state about her identity?

Fred: Regarding the case I am thinking of, she attributes failure to herself.

Luis: So, Fred, attributions become part of a meaning construct. It helps a counselor, therapist or coach to gain a deep understanding of the client and her or his situation through the attributions the subject has as a part of his or her meaning. I will later say more about the relevance in terms of healing, and even the prevention of the existential vacuum. But for now, consider how what the client says about herself – her attributions — shapes the meaning of her current reality.

If we close our ears to words and concentrate on observing actions, we would find that each person has formulated his own individual ‘meaning of life,’ and that all his opinions, attitudes, movements, expressions, mannerisms, ambitions, habits, and character traits are in according to this meaning. ~ Alfred Adler

Fred. Okay. Keep going. What about beliefs?

Luis: What did your client believed to be true about her situation or her life?

Fred: That life had no meaning or purpose. Nothing she had done ended up making a difference. She felt unappreciated and alone. Her experiences led her to believe that she was worthless.

Luis: There are few meaning types in what you just said. First, she holds the belief that life has no meaning; that it is meaningless. Whatever she had done to gain some recognition, attention or appreciation had been in vain. It gained her nothing meaningful. In addition to her belief, she also felt unappreciated and alone. Third, she attributed “worthless” to herself.

According to Dr. Carol Dweck, meaning systems help ‘people develop beliefs that organize their world and give meaning to their experiences.’ ~ Luis A. Marrero, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose. Quoting Dr. Carol Dweck. Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development

How are we doing?

Fred: Good. This is interesting. Say more. What about the meaning type values?Slide1

Luis. What is important to your client? What value or norm is being violated that has her feel the way she does; that has her making such attributions, and holding such beliefs?  What is the meaningful state – or value – lacking in her life or situation?

Fred: That life should be worth living. That she should be happy and that she should have her act together; to have control over her destiny.

Luis: So, Fred, your client has a meaningfulness standard that tells her what and how things should be in order to make her life worth living. Because we are logoteleological or self-regulated beings, values help us pay attention to and follow what we find meaningful. They also help us to reject or avoid (attitude) what is not meaningful to us. She is not happy (feeling) and does not find life worth living (belief) because her values – what is important to her – are not being fulfilled.

“Values, defined by Frankl as ‘universal meaning’, under normal circumstances provide useful guidelines toward meaning.”

Nevit Sanford pointed out that educators must do more than emphasize values. They must stress the meanings behind values. ~ Joseph B. Fabry, The Pursuit of Meaning: Viktor Frankl, Logotherapy, and Life

Are you still with me?

Fred: You have my full attention, and I follow you well. This is starting to make sense to me.

Luis: Okay, the last meaning type to cover is aim. What is the potential outcome given the meaning she has given to her life and to the situation? Did she share what she wants to do? Or at least shared what she sees as her options?

Fred: Well, unfortunately, this is one situation where suicide is a possible outcome.

Luis: So, is her stated aim to end her life?

Fred: It is the first she mentioned. I asked her about other options; and she was willing to consider them.

Luis: So, there is an end-game intent, and there could be other possibilities, hopefully more promising of a life worth living, right?

Fred: Yes. I can now see how they are all part of — and present – of a meaning situation. The aim meaning type is the conclusion of the content from the other meaning types.

[Carol Dweck] and others have researched and reported convincing findings about ‘how people’s beliefs, values, and goals set up a meaning system within which they define themselves and operate.’ ~ Luis A. Marrero, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose. Quoting Dr. Carol Dweck: Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development

RELEVANCE

Logoteleology is a practical field. It strives to meet the criteria of why the problem or solution is relevant and merits attention and focus; what can be done to prevent or remedy the situation, and how the solution will be implemented and success measured.

In logoteleology method, full meaning awareness is a precondition to meaning analysis and eventual re-decision and change. The goal of the coach is to help the client or coachee to become fully aware of the content of his or her meanings, and their consequences. Leveraging the meaning types and related questions, the client is guided by the coach to understand the narrative ‘story’ of her or his meaning as a way to become more self-aware, and to use the meaning types to self-regulate with confidence.

Logoteleologists use the synergistic and rich spectrum of meaning content through the meaning types to empower the client to replace the meaningless with more meaningful options. So far, the use of this approach has shown promising results.

THE AVR METHOD

The process followed by logoteleologists to help clients understand and improve the meaning they give to a situation, to others, to themselves, and to life is called The AVR Method. It stands for

  • Meaning Awareness
  • Meaning Analysis
  • Meaning Validation
  • Meaning Re-decision
  • Meaning Replacement / Realignment

In summary, the logoteleological method posits that attributes, beliefs, attitudes, feelings, values, and aims are the “stuff” meanings are made of. Logoteleologists are trained and certified to leverage the rich and synergistic content of meanings to prevent and heal personality disturbances. Certified Logoteleology Coaches also use the AVR Approach from meaning awareness to meaning replacement or realignment.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about logoteleology’s coaching approach please contact the author at Luis@Bostonimp.com, or leave a reply below.

[i] For more information, read my book, The Path to a Meaningful Purpose: Psychological Foundations of Logoteleology.

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