Apr 22, 2012

ETYMOLOGY! Symbolism: Why Is It so Important

Even without the word "STOP",
 this red octogan lets you know this
signs meaning.

Let's Talk about Etymology! SYMBOLISM! Why is it so important...

Symbols can mean different things to different people. The purpose of a symbol is to convey a meaning. A great example of this is a "STOP" sign. Even without the word "STOP" on the sign, you recognize the meaning of this symbol by a Red Octogan.

Symbols come in different shapes and forms. All symbols invoke some type of reaction from the person who is witnessing the symbol at that time and based on the environment or culture they are in at that time, they will react accordingly. Numerals are symbols for numbers. If we are in a classroom environment and there are numerals written on a blackboard or a piece of paper, we are instantly assured that we are learning mathematics. Our mind then tells us to react accordingly to learn math. 
Words can be symbols. The way we arrange words into sentences or phrases can be symbols. The way we say the words: the tone and inflection in our voice, emphasis on certain vowels or consonants, alliteration, enunctiation, and pronunciation; these are all symbols as well. Words as symbols help us to communicate and understand each other. The word "NOW" let's us know that something needs to be done instantly. Based on who says the word or who writes the word and the way the word is said or written, the person recieving or hearing the word will react accordingly.

An example would be a mother instructing their child to take out the garbage.
At first the mother may be calm.

"Please take the garbage out. Thank You."
If the child does do it the first time, the mother may become more agitated and ask again but with more inflection in her voice.
"I thought I told you to take the garbage out. Please take it out." After a second time the child does not take the garbage out, Mom may become angry and use words that are more forceful to convey meaning.
"Take out the garbage NOW!" The child will then take out the garbage. By hearing mother's change in tone and the emphasis on the word "NOW", the child quickly understood the symbolism and meaning behind mother's words. Even when writing this short scenario, the reader can see the change in tone of mother by the use of punctuation or written symbolism to display emotion or emphasis in words.

The Rainbow is a symbol that means
varying things to different groups of
people based on background, religion, &
Symbols change over time and will change meanings based on the socialization, culture, religion, and background of the persons who acknowledge the symbol. For example, the rainbow. The rainbow in Christian culture was a symbol of the covenant that God made with man that He would not destroy the earth by flood waters again. The symbol of the rainbow in Buddhist culture signifies the highest state acheivable before Nirvana where the desire for indivdualism is extinguised. The rainbow can also be seen across the world on the backs of automobiles as the flag for LGBT unity and the gay pride movement.

Symbols can be born and then symbols can die. What one considers a holy symbol may be considered a pagan symbol to another. And at other times a symbol that was once considered holy can be considered pagan at another time. "Living" symbols can reveal great meaning in people's lives and unveil layers of internal thoughts, religious revelations, and relalities in people.  Symbols can also lose their meaning and power over time based on changes in individuals and the culture around them; these symbols then become "dead".
Paul Tillich, a Christian philosopher, said that a symbol always "points beyond itself" to something that is unquantifiable and mysterious. Tillich goes further to say that a symbol has "depth dimension". Symbols are complex and their meanings can evolve as the individual or culture evolves.

When symbols take on a deeper meaning to people, people can make those symbols into idols. Meaning people will give deity to an object (non-living or living) and worship it. People will substitute the symbol itsself for the meaning that it represents, instead of the internalizing the meaning of the symbol and evolving from that knowledge.

Symbols are very important in our world. Human beings find symbolism and meaning in everything in which we associate ourselves. We find our spiritual, physical, and mental meanings in the symbols we make important in our own individual lives and the lives of those who surround us daily. We must always remember that someone else may not have the same feelings or ideas about the symbols we deem to be important, and that it is okay. We are all different. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures. We all have different ideas about the Higher Power. But we must remember that we are all human and that even in our being different we all have the same desires and needs. Let us all have the same symbolism when we see each other... and that is to LOVE.

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