Not making assumptions


I applied GS in order to understand and manage my frustrating experience with loud noises last night. Usually, I spend every night hearing loud noises, without even thinking about GS.

Here’s how I used general semantics, step-by-step, by 1) examining human events, 2) understanding their impact, 3) evaluating the experience and 4) considering actions tied to the experience:

A loud helicopter flew near my apartment last night. I heard it! This is an event. I recognized it as an event, a happening and in some way, a stimulus.

As the loud helicopter flew near me, I suddenly reacted by looking around. I was disoriented for a few minutes, as the sound of the helicopter was amplified. This was the impact of the loud helicopter. My body felt energized and there was a feeling of dread. The urgent reactions faded away after the helicopter left the area.

I started having thoughts of urgency, as if I needed to get ready for something somewhat unexplained, but immediately pending. The words “Gotta go!” were in my mind, and I related those words to my war experience. I did not remain in my initial assumptions.

I started making more assumptions about the event and the impact: Last night, I was able to assume that this was just a usual transportation flight, and it was not linked to an emergency. This was an evaluation I made based on my present reality. I was not assuming from the perspective of any past events in the military. I was not assuming the present in the past.

I thought about helicopters in Iraq, but I was not enmeshing the past with the present. I was making distinctions about the helicopter that flew near me in New York City, and those other helicopters from the war, while thinking of other times I heard helicopters fly by my apartment. I was able to exercise my mind via a “relaxed abstracting” of reality.

I acted after my evaluation: I resumed writing at my desk with some discomfort, but the experience of the loud helicopter was not completely negative, and I chose to continue to have a productive night instead of imploding from the experience. The words “Gotta go!” did not have power over me last night.

General semantics helped me examine the loud helicopter experience with greater accuracy, with a discipline tied to the present reality instead of the past. Yet, it did not suppress previous experiences.

General semantics stresses the importance of having the discipline to look at the words that are tied to the experiences in the mind. The words in my mind are tied to loud helicopters in Iraq, but those near my home are examined as they are and are not enmeshed with other stories.

I was able to create this exploratory narrative with the help of a lecture, “Talking Sense,” given by a great professor of public speaking from Northwestern University, Dr. Irving Lee, Ph.D. It can be found on YouTube. The lecture was helpful to me in regard to understanding and applying general semantics to last night’s loud helicopter ordeal.

A technology of the self to use after war


My experience with general semantics was a knowledge-building exercise involving 1) examining an event 2) examining the impact of the event, 3) evaluating the event and its impact and 4) acting on the knowledge gained from the event, impact and evaluation.

From this systematic and scientific exploration of myself and the world of a post-war readjustment event, I was able to tap into a unique technology of the self. As alluded to above, general semantics promotes an individual’s potential to self-direct his or her own life by using a technology of human potential and self-help.

Again, general semantics offers a readjusting veteran a system of abstracting through which they can look at life’s challenges with a subjectivity that does not ignore objectivity.

Science and narrative 


My human nervous system reacted to experiencing the loud helicopter in certain ways, with words tied to my internal experience. A narrative was developed from the experience. This narrative of ‘the loud helicopter’ shows how I did not limit myself to overwhelming dreadful feelings and a pattern of negative post-war thinking. I was able to progress, last night, in seeing ‘reality’ as it was/is.

Being attuned to ‘awareness’ of events in my immediate reality is a disciplined exercise and a major skill pertaining to general semantics.

Being attuned to ‘awareness’ of events in my immediate reality is a disciplined exercise and a major skill pertaining to general semantics. The impact of my experience did not crush me, as I felt initially uncomfortable but was able to understand that my experience was part of a continuation of events in time, instead of being fixed to the past in Iraq.

I understood that there was more to understand than a loud helicopter and anxious memories. My evaluation of the situation helped me stay on my path for the night, without being totally flooded with negative thoughts about the helicopter that flew near my home.

I was able to create a clear narrative of my experience. I created a case study of my experience last night, but my narrative creation involved ‘me’ using a scientific exploration into my experience of the loud helicopter. I was able to go beyond a diagnosis by understanding the many possible meanings I could derive from my experience.

This does not lead me to dismiss the medical approach towards understanding veteran readjustment. Other veterans may or may not relate to my narrative. And besides, in no way is this a universal narrative for all veterans who experience unpleasant loud noises. Simply, my narrative is just additional knowledge about myself for me to understand as I experience the continuing reality of life after the loud helicopter flew by my home.

There was a razor-sharp awareness needed when I was Over There, so I could make it back home. I did not always have awareness, but many times, I did experience it while in Iraq. It was useful then.

General semantics just might be the tactical self-technology of awareness that’s needed at home for continued readjustment and reintegration.

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit MANAGE WAR TRAUMA USING GENERAL SEMANTICS: An interview with Dr. Martin H. Levinson [Part 1]»


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