I think I know the difference: Facts are what happens, and interpretations are the meanings I give to what happens. Except interpretations are not the meanings I give to what happens. The meanings simply arise. They exist automatically, with no effort—or permission—from me. They are not only embedded in “what happens,” but instantly assert their dominance, letting any facts sink to the bottom of the pool. It’s not even a struggle.
I can more easily see where other people collapse their facts and interpretations. “So you say he undermines you. I’m from West Virginia, one of the places in the world familiar with mining under a stretch of land and thereby rendering the surface less stable. Assuming that person isn’t digging, what exactly does he do or say that you call “undermining?”
Working with other people, I can see there is nothing they can powerfully address with an interpretation, which is usually general and often judgmental. One can always gossip, I suppose, but that addresses nothing. On the other hand, “He didn’t give me the report until Tuesday” can be addressed, so long as one sets aside the story of “because he’s a jerk and wants me to look bad to the boss.”
Other people’s interpretations? Clear. It’s less easy for me to see where I collapse facts and interpretations, especially when an interpretation has dominated for so long that the facts have not only sunk to the bottom of the pool—they are headed for the drain.
Where trouble lurks
The interpretations that cause me the most trouble frequently hide within “I can’t…”—not to be confused with phrases such as “I can’t put weight on my right leg without pain,” a fact I recently reported to a doctor. (He responded with a speech about how he thinks patients think—face creams and Star Trek were mentioned—and I laughed so hard he might have misinterpreted that to mean he was amusing.) Anyway, that’s not the kind of “I can’t” that signals a collapse for me.
My stating “I can’t” sounds like a fact (of the weight-on-leg variety), when it’s really a declaration—a statement about what set of possibilities exist in an as-yet-nonexistent future. The interpretations, all on the surface, support the declaration, while the facts, as I said, circle the drain.
Here was an old one: “I can’t sell a screenplay.” The interpretations abounded. The ones I can remember: Movie “suits” aren’t interested in women writers over 40 or character-driven screenplays. The facts were always there: Certain people (who could be named) said those interpretations. The biggest facts, however, were: I never directly talked to anyone in the business about screenplays, I never tried to sell a screenplay, and (perhaps tellingly) I never even finished a screenplay. It’s interpretation all the way down.
What does that say about the future?
Now one could find that amusing, if it weren’t for the fact that it demonstrates an aspect of the future wiped clean of possibility.
This is not something to make myself wrong about, although, in another universe, I certainly could—like the universe where I’m supposed to be perfect [maniacal laughter]. I’m beginning to appreciate how automatic brains are. My brain operates out of certain interpretations and doesn’t want to expend the energy required to search for facts that ground (or, more likely, don’t ground) those interpretations—maybe because it’s saving itself for something life-threatening like a bear attack. Or maybe because it’s saving itself from the death of its image of me. That’s perhaps more likely.
I am pretty sure that I’m not the only one who does this, and I’m betting that this process is not going to stop any time soon. The issue becomes how to live a life of my own design intentionally. A useful question might be: Are these interpretations pointing me in a direction that supports my commitment, or—just to check—can I first see what facts support those interpretations before I rush off into action—or collapse in inaction—based on a faulty premise?