My red-haired grandmother, Anna Janzen Funk, left school after the third grade to help the family survive the Russian Revolution. During World War II, my mother, Katie Funk Wiebe, declined a scholarship to study physics and enrolled in secretarial school, partly because my grandfather knew that a physicist would support the war effort, something against the family’s pacificistic beliefs, but also because that would enable her to quickly support herself. But both my grandmother and my mother were enthusiastic life-long learners. Their context was as Ukrainian, Mennonite immigrants to northern Saskatchewan, Canada, living in close-knit small farming communities. And that’s the socio-cultural context into which I was born, and everything I have learned in my life is meaningful within that very specific matrix of people, geography, culture, cosmology, and theology.
Every shred of meaning that I cherish is inter-subjective.
How are values, beliefs and thinking manifested? Gerry Stahl describes shared meaning as an emergent property of discourse and interaction. It is NOT “just some kind of statistical average of individual mental meanings, an agreement among pre-existing opinions, or an overlap of internal representations. . . It is not necessarily reducible to opinions or understandings of individuals.” Socially shared meaning is made visible in the interactions of agents belonging the group. In other words, watch my behavior and conversations with my family, my co-workers at Orbitz Worldwide, and with my friends at Quaker meeting, Shalom Mountain Retreat and Study Center, Reba Place Fellowship, and Evanston Home Educators.
In my interactions in those venues, plenty of shared meaning is emerging all the time.