Its All about Meaning

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Its All about Meaning

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It is easy to maintain an anxious state of mind with regard to the future, as the constant flow of information inside and outside of our control can easily become overwhelming. This is because our brains are essentially designed for one primary purpose: self-preservation.

And when our situation is chronically confusing, threatening, or contains too many unknowns, our limbic brain predominates and influences our behavior in an unbalanced and often paralyzing fashion.

This natural tendency toward conservatism – a desire to maintain the status quo in spite of it being unsatisfactory- can be overcome by finding a deeply purposeful plan…discovering our ‘why.’

Having a deeply purposeful plan shifts much of our brain functioning from the anxious limbic areas to the thoughtful and productive prefrontal cortex.

And if we establish a clear vision of our preferred future – remain “future focused,” as Bob Barkley used to say, our brain functions ‘as if’ this perspective is true and then goes about looking for ways to assist and advance it. Maxwell Malz, MD wrote a classic book on this phenomenon titled Psycho-Cybernetics.

From the perspective of modern brain science, what we orient ourselves towards consciously and unconsciously …that which captures and holds our attention …is personal meaning. And this happens even before we realize it. The brain acts as if the whole world is made up of information relative to meaning – not just physical material.

The legendary German philosopher Heidegger was convinced this was true as well. He wrote that the world is primarily constructed by each of us through our interpretations of our experiences- personal meanings. This type of thinking today feels foreign, because our culture has largely shifted toward a deeply materialistic secular philosophy.

And a deeply materialistic secular perspective lacks a lot of meaning. But if we look deeper and deeper at anything physical, the shapes can be broken down into smaller and smaller units…cells, atoms…electrons…and eventually just energy behaving in a predictable fashion.

But WHY does this happen? Such answers can only be found in the realm of philosophy and religion.

So, why am I taking you here in this discussion? Because all of this holds true for our patients as well.

Our patient’s need to find their ‘why’ if we want them to make better health-centered decisions when they are with us. They need to understand the meaning (to themselves) of the treatment we are discussing with them. And this represents way more than just a physical phenomenon to them.

This is key because it is only after THEY have found a meaningful purpose behind our proposals that THEIR prefrontal cortex will kick in and to be able to visualize the possibilities; hence, the value of the possibilities from their point of view.

So, our role is not to “sell”, “convince”, or “present,” our role is to lead our patients toward the creation of their own vision, one meaningful experience at a time. And after that has occurred, its almost as if we can’t stop them from proceeding in the right direction, and making better decisions and commitments.

Paul A. Henny DDS


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