We are living in an age when the dynamics of personality development are under close scrutiny. We want to know why things happen as they do,when they go right, and when they go wrong. The principles of general semantics are invaluable in this project of self-discovery.
It would be very difficult to question the nature of the individual in an autocratic society where the individual has their place and is expected to stay there.
We live in a society, which in theory extends opportunities for everyone to develop their capacities as fully as possible, which is based on hopeful assumptions.
The individual today is asserting their dignity and self-respect. They are getting up and saying, “I want to know more about myself and the society in which I live! I am just as good as, and definitely no worse than, anyone else.”
Perhaps this overambitious individual is motivated by envy. When he sees a successful, cheerful, productive person with lots of energy and a capacity for winning friends, he says, “how did he get that way? If he can do it, why can't I?”
We are not satisfied with the explanation that it was just “luck,” although we suspect that luck may have had a lot to do with it. While we believe we can improve our educational and economic situationwith our own efforts, we also believe we can do something to “improve” our personalities. We can apply the disciplines of general semantics to the problems of our daily living.
We can have confidence in psychological “know how.” We can stress experimentation and observe what is going on here and now, as a method of getting better results in interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the same open circuit and “give-and-take” communication which is desirable between individuals is also desirable between groups.
In brief, we believe that there are definite things we can do here and now to become the kind of personalities we would like to become. And there are things we can do to get along a little better with others.
Also, when things go wrong in our lives (as they frequently do), we are inclined to demand “reasons,” the real reasons, not just superficial ones. We seek more meaningful explanations, but there are dangers in this approach. Sometimes we assume that the less obvious explanation will be the more valuable one. This is not necessarily so.For example, when a person is upset, we ask for a reason. He may say, “I've been working too hard.” Well and good, as far as it goes. But it may not go far enough. We may want a better and more complete answer. We may want to enquire among his friends and obtain more information, adding their stories to his story.
This checking up and obtaining additional information gives us a picture that more accurately represents what is happening. “I want a better explanation than that,” we say. “Perhaps you have been working too hard. But what else is bothering you?”. These additional questions may stimulate us to look beyond the immediate situation. We seek deeper reasons, more accurate reasons, reasons that come closer to “hitting the nail on the head.”
However, just because a reason is less obvious than the one that first came to mind does not mean that it is better. The “reasons” should be tested by experiment, wherever possible. The stories must be checked with the facts. A less obvious explanation, if accepted uncritically, might be as misleading as an obvious one.
Also, no matter how thoroughly we investigate, we never com¬prehend reality completely. Our concepts are always to a degree erroneousand our judgments are always to a degree, unfair. We are perhaps more easily misled by explanations that we do not test and question (whether obvious or obscure), than by those we do test and question.
We evaluate our explanations by testing them out in reality. We want to find out how accurately our thoughts represent the realities that are taking place. Are our realities everything that we expect them to be? What are you doing to change your reality?