Why You Should Never Downplay the Importance of Symbolic Gestures


Life isn’t just about the practical and rationalistic concerns of the day-to-day; like making sure that there is food on the table, and that rain isn’t leaking through the roof.

Many of the things that actually give the most meaning to people’s lives are not obviously “practical,” at all, but are a matter of powerful symbolic gestures that point to things on a deeper level.

When someone buys a 2 carat diamond ring in order to propose to their girlfriend, for example, the gesture is completely symbolic in nature. It’s also deeply meaning and significant.

Here are a few reasons why you should never downplay the importance of symbolic gestures in life.

Because symbolic gestures, like art, point the way to unspoken truths

The simple fact is that many of the deepest truths in life are unspoken, and have to remain unspoken. Trying to verbally and rationalistically explain “why” a parent loves their child, for example, will not get you anywhere near to the truth of the bond between parent and child. 

At best, you’ll be able to come up with some abstract reductionist explanation.

Symbolic gestures, like art, deep storytelling, or poetry, point the way to unspoken truths that are – when all is said and done – at the heart of what it means to be human.

Because symbolic gestures are essential to our emotional lives as human beings

Not only do symbolic gestures point towards some of the greatest unspoken truths that are at the heart of being human, but they are also essential to our emotional lives as human beings, in general.

When you really want to tell someone that you love them, or show that you are deeply appreciative of a particular situation, many of the most powerful ways of conveying those emotions will be through symbolic means. Through gestures of affection, traditional celebrations, and other things like that.

Without symbolic gestures as a way of getting in touch with our emotional lives, and establishing emotional connections with others, we would be a lot more like machines.

Because symbolic gestures help to embed us in a deeper and richer context

Symbolic gestures can help to embed us in a deeper and richer context than the simple everyday experiences of our own lives.

Although we don’t necessarily think of it in these terms too often, culture itself is essentially made up of symbolic gestures. Styles of art, types of music, religious rituals, and more.

It’s well known that people who have a sense of cultural belonging, and of their place in the world, are happier and healthier than those who feel alienated, alone, and detached from a broader context.

By honouring the power and meaning of symbolic gestures in your own life, you can help to situate yourself in a deeper and richer context that gives life a lot more meaning than it would otherwise have.