Defined by Definers

Every week, I am in charge of the MOSAIC E-Digest, and as a “personal” touch, I try to embed a quote that relates to social justice or that comments on the current system of how society runs.  This week, one of my colleagues helped me find a quote , which was:

“Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.” – Toni Morrison

When I read this quote, I was immediately placed into my thinking mode where I was trying to deconstruct it and find the meaning of this simple, yet powerful statement.  One thing that has really stood out for me during my stay in MOSAIC is that whenever a conversation leads to more of a debate, I’ve learned that personal definitions of a term, is one of the most important premise on which their argument is made.  “What do you mean by that?” or “How do you define _____” is a very common question that can be heard in these conversations.  And they are good questions to ask too.  Not everyone has the same definitions of things and it’s better to declare those differences before engaging in a discussion where many conflicting view points may be present.

To me, this statement means that everything we experience is to each their own, and the meaning changes depending on the person’s experience with that concept, idea, or a thing.  It reminds us the way we conceive the world around us differs from person to person.  Factors such as the individual’s upbringing, economical status, and personality clashes all together that affect how we formulate the meaning of our past, present, and future.  In a sense, each person has the ability and the power to define what is in front of them, and any interpretation is correct because their own experience is used to justify the meaning.  In these times, it’s really important to keep in mind that individuals all have different perceptions and it’s acceptable to disagree.



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