HomeRead & TalkLibrary - TeachingWhat We Share - Meaning (2/3)


What We Share - Meaning (2/3)

At first glance, it may appear that sharing words and sharing meaning are the same thing. The two are certainly related. Both words and meaning are individual and symbolic. In their fundamental state, words are ink on paper or sound waves that vibrate your eardrum. Meaning is only communicated in symbols. You can't really transmit or impose meaning on another person. Sharing meaning may encompass sharing words…but not always. When we share words, we share understanding (at least our understandings overlap); when we share meaning, we share experience. Meaning isn't found in words; it's found in people.


Here are some examples of words that have more than one meaning:
1. Skis: may be water, or snow skis.
2. Sliding: may indicate a preferable activity on a slide or a horrifying activity on an icy road.
3. Poles: can include fishing, telephone, or fence poles.
4. Rotation: could be a pitcher's turn to pitch or what the earth does.
5. Engage: might be what you do before you get married or putting your lawn mower in gear

One of the common applications of this principle haunts my lessons. After students make reasonably good turns, I ask them how they accomplished the turn. Regularly, students reply that they turned their knees. Sometimes I ask them if their knees are still intact. Subsequently, I point out to them that our knees really don't turn all that much. Interestingly, for the guests, femur rotation means knee rotation. Here's another example. Have you ever noticed what happens when you invite guests to put their skis across the fall line? Quite regularly, they will orient their skis parallel with the base of the mountain or parallel to the lodge where they started. Sometimes, students will still slide backwards because of multiple pitches and variable fall lines. To some students, "downhill" means the base of the mountain.

In addition to words, meaning can be shared in other ways. Many students may conclude that falling is bad. Helping them discover that falling can stop them from hitting trees may cause the meaning of falling to change. Some students judge their skiing ability by how narrow a stance they can create in their parallel skiing. Helping those students discover the stability of a functional stance may cause them to create new meaning. Frequently, students are motivated by moguls and bored with groomed runs. Helping those students practice mogul movements on groom runs may alter the meaning of groomed runs on their behalf.

Like words, meaning seems to be shared on a continuum:


Once again, a balance between their meaning and my meaning is preferable. If the experience were heavily weighted toward my meaning, guests would undoubtedly leave confused. If the experience focused exclusively on their meaning, there would likely be no growth. If we truly want to share meaning, we have to be willing to both create new meaning and acknowledge old meaning in our students.

The following guidelines will promote the possibility of shared meaning:
1. Create opportunities for guests to demonstrate (usually in their skiing) what concepts mean.
2. Acknowledge guests' pre-conceived meanings.
3. Construct meaning as part of the shared experience.
4. Be open to allowing students to create new meaning for you.

I remember the student who associated fear with speed and fast turns. Despite all my explanations about creating friction, maintaining balance, completing turns, and pressuring her outside foot, the thought of speed still petrified her. On a chairlift ride, we talked about her other interests. I was surprised to discover that she loved to ride her touring bike…and that she loved to ride it fast. On the next run we talked about how difficult it was to balance on her bike when she was riding slowly and how a little momentum seemed to make balancing easier. With renewed determination, she added a little momentum to her skiing. To her delight, she felt much more comfortable than when she was constantly starting and stopping. In this case, speed had a new meaning.

The miracle of shared meaning exceeds my understanding of a guest's fear or their trust of my expertise. In fact, shared meaning creates new meaning both for me and for the guest. I get to be a witness to their discovery; they get to mediate my knowledge in a new forum.