The Art of Reframing

Ah, context is everything. This hits home to me every time I hear the Céline Dion song, “Because You Loved Me.”

My initial reaction to the tune, when I first heard it a dozen years ago, went something like, “Ok, nice vocal performance and musical arrangement. But ENOUGH of these slavishly dependent love lyrics where someone’s very existence is contingent on a lover’s attention. ‘I’m everything I am because you loved me.’ Really! Is that a message you want to be sending out to a hundred million listeners, especially other women? How about believing in yourself no matter what he thinks?”

But a few years later I came across an interview with the writer of the song, Diane Warren, who explained that she wrote “Because You Loved Me” to thank her father for his unshakable belief in her—and especially his relentless support of her artistic aspirations. Wham! The song was instantly transformed before my very ears! A mawkish ballad became a paean to a father’s love. Instead of being annoyed, I was immediately inspired and even choked up by it. (After all, what parent would not die to hear that sentiment from a daughter?) The song itself didn’t change, but seen in a new light, the song could have a dramatically different effect.

This, of course, has applications to work life where we can feel slapped around by events daily that have unpleasant meanings for us. But an event itself doesn’t determine its meaning, we do. What matters is our interpretation of an event. And with a little thought and creativity we can find different interpretations to most things that happen to us. Such is the art of “reframing“—viewing an event through a new and deliberately chosen frame. We probably all do it at times—for instance, when we decide to view a misfortune (perhaps a career setback or a job loss) as a constructive opportunity (perhaps an occasion to take a new direction in our work or learn a new set of skills). The choice is up to us in how to interpret these events. And from our interpretation comes our response.

So it is that a pop tune on the radio can be heard as either a sappy report on helpless infatuation or as a timeless acknowledgment of a daughter’s enduring love for her father.

John OLeary posted this on September 8, 2008, in Strategies.
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