Friday, November 08, 2002

What General Semantics Means to Me

I came across this quote today:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
--Viktor Frankl, author, neurologist and psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor (1905-1997)

When I read it, I realized that this gets to the heart of what general semantics means to me. Beyond the philosophical and academic aspects of how language works and how it affects our thinking, the principles and formulations of general semantics offer us a method to choose our attitudes in each given moment. By learning more about how language and thinking interact, we develop a framework for understanding the moment. But when we go beyond the academic to the personal, when we daily apply the formulations and learning the habits suggested by general semantics, then we begin to gain control over our reactions to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Note that this does not mean we no longer feel the effects of the world around us, nor do we become insensitive to the troubles of others. Rather, we acquire the ability to select which events will affect us, and which we will not allow to perturb our inner equilibriums. We make such choices based on a calm and rational evaluation of the relative weight each moment carries in OUR value system, or by considering the amount of "truth" in the emotional statements of those around us.

Without taking a moment to assess the moment rationally and with the higher portions of our brains, we fall prey to emotional outbursts and faulty evaluations, our own and those of others around us. With the tools developed under the umbrella of general semantics, we can choose our way through the shoals of daily interactions, choose our attitudes in each set of circumstances, and no longer find ourselves buffeted by each and every wild breeze that swirls around us.

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