Meaning and Purpose

In sloppy everyday speech we sometimes use purpose and meaning interchangeably as if they meant the same. But remember how we go about a given purpose and how, in contrast, we experience meaning. The difference is striking. In order to achieve our purpose, whatever it may be, we must take hold of the situation, take matters in hand, take charge of things. We must be in control. Is this also true of a situation in which you experience deep meaning? You will find yourself saying that you were touched, moved, even carried away by the experience. That doesn’t sound as if you were in control of what happened. Rather, you gave yourself to the experience, it took hold of you and so you found meaning in it. Unless you take control, you won’t achieve your purpose; but unless you give yourself, you can’t experience meaning.”


The passive voice in the English language went out of style around the first half of the twentieth century and for some reason the perspective has stuck. George Orwell spoke out against it in the late 1940s. And now, in the most common word processor on the planet, if you write a sentence in the passive voice, a little green squiggly line will appear underneath with the bland suggestion: “consider revising.”

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