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Using Symbols for Transformation

The word "symbol" is derived from the Greek word symbolon. In ancient Greece it was a custom to break a slate of burned clay into several pieces and distribute them within the group. When the group reunited, the pieces were fitted together to confirm whether the members belonged to the group.

From this beginning evolved our use of "symbolism" to mean an object or sign that stands for something else. These objects can have more than one layer of meaning. The more profound the symbol, the greater the complexity of the layers of meaning.

An example is the capitol building in Washington, DC. It is made of stone, concrete, steel and wood, as are thousands of other buildings. Yet it represents much more than the sum of its individual parts. That's because it's the place where members of the Senate and House of Representatives -- the people WE have elected—meet to debate and compromise the laws that govern us. Thus it embodies the idea and, even more, the "ideal" of our system of government, as flawed as it sometimes is in practice. When we see a picture of the capitol building, we respond to the symbolism inherent in how the building is used.

Consequently, the capitol building of the United States stands for a great, invisible concept, democracy, that people have given their lives to defend. Similarly, in all countries the buildings that represent the government take on a symbolism of authority and common ideals. Of course, in totalitarian countries, those buildings can symbolize suppression and pain for many of its subjects.

Often we acquire associations with symbols without being aware that we are acquiring them. When we talk to others, when we read a book, when we write a story, when we sleep and dream, or when we engage in almost any activity, we will be faced with meanings that are there naturally and unavoidably. Our minds continually process these symbols, for they give meaning to communication and to understanding who we are and how we are related to the world around us.

Thus commonly understood symbols play a significant role in communicating ideas, experiences, and concepts. However, you can also make use of the power of symbols when you deliberately choose an object to represent something that is important to you, and to you alone. In some cases it might be a goal toward which you are striving. In other cases it may represent a quality you want to achieve. Even though the object may hold no particular significance to anyone else, if it resonates with you, it can serve as a powerful reminder of a path you want to follow.



A Cloak of Persuasion

Creating a Symbol for Difficult Situations

Seat Belts, Safety Nets, and Bungee Cords

Bring Lots of Friends With You

Close Encounters With Strangers

Making Time for Zippers

Lessons From the Pebble


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