Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
|Yesterday, I taught a chapter about doing therapy from a Social Constructivist perspective. I don’t know how many of my readers know what Social Constructivism is, so I offer a brief definition: we construct meaning socially, through verbal communication. Because this perspective defines the origin of meaning as a present activity, meaning is seen as malleable, and connected directly to the social context that defined it. This perspective fascinates me. It seems very right and true as a result of conversations I have had in the past about it. Those conversations were not only with people, but also with books, and with myself. As I write this, I am conversing with myself and with an imaginary “you.” Of course, you know you are not imaginary, but my conversation is with the “you” in my head, and only becomes a conversation with the “you” made of matter when you read what I wrote. I don’t want to talk here about how these philosophical constructs relate to therapy. I want to apply them to the issue of the Confederate Flag.
As a nation, many, many people are having conversation about the meaning of the Confederate flag and the implications that meaning has for its display. This conversation is aimed at constructing a common meaning that we can all share. It has become salient that there does not now exist a common meaning. We share awareness of the origins of the flag in the secession from the Union by the states that organized themselves as the Confederacy. Until this conversation, I did not know the flag was a battle flag for Robert E. Lee’s regiment rather than the official flag of the Confederacy. I did not know the origins of the symbols as written by the flag’s creator. It appears to me that relatively few people knew any of this. Wisely, people looked it up and shared freely through electronic and print media. Since that sharing, other descriptions of the meaning of the flag have been circulated as freely. I don’t know the origin of these detailed accounts, but I do know that those circulating them seem to hold this as their meaning.
The discussion seems to have boiled down to the question: “Is this flag representing slavery and racial oppression, or is it representing dedication to Christian and patriotic intentions?” I have no information that suggests any impending resolution of the problem. I think people have a real opportunity to redefine the flag for themselves, but they can’t redefine it for someone else who already has another meaning. The resolution will come from the conversation. How long will that take? Well, so far, it has taken 150 years or so. The fact is, there are many meanings for this one symbol that are deeply held.
One of the characteristics of meaning, according to the Constructivist thinkers, is resistance to change. We certainly are seeing this in the current conversation. One of the many meanings contributing to the discussion is a widely held perspective that symbols have absolute meanings, and that there a thing called “absolute truth,” and an “absolute right.” These meanings are especially resistant to change. There is a kind of thinking behind these ideas that has been taught in American schools for a very long time called “scientific reasoning” or “the scientific method.” The constructivist view challenges some of the major meanings or beliefs of science. This is the depth of meaning involved in the discussion of the Confederate flag.
I see no end to the issue on the horizon. I wonder how long it will take to develop a common meaning. I wonder if it is even possible. However, another characteristic of meaning is that discomfort is necessary for change to take place. We seem to be having plenty of that, so perhaps, it can happen now. I guess we shall see. It is interesting to watch, and more interesting to participate. Speak your mind on the subject. Speak freely, as the other flag, that of the United States of America stands for freedom of speech. This is a viable meaning as speech is necessary for growth in response to change. Remember, listening and working at understanding matter at least as much, if not more than speaking in developing viable meaning.