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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Communication: People Need Symbols

Anonymous uses Guy Fawkes, partially to conceal the identity of members but also to create an identifiable brand.  We might think of this and cringe, but symbols are fundamental to the way we view our world.  Flags are symbols.  Uniforms are symbols.  Even letters are symbols, representing intangibles like sound.  Zero represents a concept, nothingness, that doesn't even exist in nature.
We communicate the world we live in through metaphor - images painted on cave walls, languages, parables, art are all expressions of the world as we interpret it - not as the world is in and of itself.  Like any telephone game, layers and personal experiences get added to the expression of what is over time until the metaphor we communicate is something entirely different than the thing it represents.  Thus, bridges have gender, ideologies are understood as uniform blocks, The Other is separate from ourselves. 
The invention and use of symbols is a powerful tool - essentially, the building block of communication.  Through symbols, we can record information across time, we can teach, we can conceptualize, plan, build, etc, but it equally creates a filter between the world we are a part of and the world we comprehend in our heads.  Call it a prison for your mind.
Cultures around the world have identified this concept, through metaphor, and have equally proposed solutions, which in turn become wrapped in metaphor.  We like to focus on the ever-expanding differences, but here's the thing - when you get passed the telephone-game of social adaptation, you find core concepts and symbols that are truly universal in nature, like the tree, the snake or the circle.
The differences aren't a bad thing - they add diversity, complexity and through co-morbidity, opportunity.  It's social evolution, an exact mirror of what happens with biological evolution.  It pays, though, to always stay grounded in where the diversity stems from.  The predecessor of symbolism, that nebulous Centre, is the emotional starting point of our communication big bang.  From the centre stem all things; therefore, from the centre, all things can be unravelled, understood and rebuilt.
Those of us yearning for a connection with something greater than ourselves, meaning to life, etc. and look for an external diety or an external paradise are caught in a cycle of conceptualization.  The answers we seek aren't boxed definitions at all, but rather the absence thereof. 

Meaning is not found without; it's felt from within.  Those who become too enchanted by symbols lose the opportunity to divine the understanding they can otherwise unlock.

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