The Use of Symbols
Symbols have been a form of communication throughout all ages of the world. Some people may interpret it the same while others may perceive it as a totally different thing while also displaying a lack of interest towards it, simply because they do not understand it. The misinterpretation of symbols can cause some problems within a homogenous or heterogeneous community because different values can be placed on different things. Symbols can be defined as a thing that represents or stands for something else. A symbol can range from anything such as icons, images, tokens, and etc. The use of symbols can have two sides to it, depending on how a person interprets it.
In the book “Seeing Ourselves” by John Macionis, a Professor of Sociology and Prentice Hall Distinguished Scholar, Peter L. Berger makes a statement that meaning is socially constructed by a society. According to Berger, people act accordingly to the meaning they assign to objects, symbols, or events. Basing off of Berger’s theory, symbols are only valuable when they have the same meaning to people. A prime example this theory would be the cross. Some people wear it because it is sacred to them and it represents the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, while others wear it simply because it is a fashion statement.
Symbols are not only important to us, but it is also the one thing that separates us from animals, in accordance to Berger. The ability to see, recognize, and interpret symbols are what sets us apart from the animal kingdom. While symbols have value, they will never have meaning until we agree on the same thing. The use of language is totally symbolic because we have provided a meaning to words that can be understood and interpreted the same way within a homogeneous community. The fact that we agree on word meanings makes that a symbolic use because we, as a people construct them.
The use of symbols is not only visual, they can be any of the five senses. If two agree on the same sound that it means the same thing then that has now become a symbol. Harald Wydra, a well-known writer and Ph.D. psychology,
reports in his article “The Power Of Symbols and Beyond” that the one thing that trurly sets us apart from animals is the abiltly to have conversations with ourselves before we react. According to Wydra, another key point in the use of symbols is that it has changed our lives forever. We communicate through symbols, whether it’s a sign or painting. According to Wydra, symbols lead to language and the richness of modern human life. Symbols played an important role in the development of languages because it allowed us to break down signs and turn them into words.
According to Wydra, symbolic meanings will always be different amongst different nations and cultures. In America the color the represents death and mourning is black but in china it is white. Imagine a Chinese man coming to a funeral in America, that person would experience a major culture shock because the meaning we have applied to black is to symbolize death, but in his culture white would be that color. Even though symbols can bring about problems through misinterpretations, one can say that it is also beneficial to us. Instead of writing stop, come, or go we can relate those commands to images or signs that provide the actions desired.
In conclusion, the use of symbols will be a topic that will remain to be complex. Researches cannot pin point a direct time where symbols were first used, but one thing they can say is that it’s been used for a while and it will always be used. Berger made a bold statement when he stated that the reason why animals and humans are different is because we have the ability to interpret symbols. However, Wydra states that the real reason why animals and humans are different is because we have the ability to converse with ourselves. We can imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to rationalize to actions. Regardless of which statement is more accurate, symbolic usage was and will always be a major foundation in the human language, and animals will never be able to fully interpret them as a human can.
Macionis, John and Nijole, Benokraitis. “Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultral.” Prentice Hall, Inc.2009.Print. Wydra,
Harald. “The Power Of Symbols and Beyond.” International Journal Of Politics, Culture & Society 25.1-3 (2012): 49-69. Academic Search Premier. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.