In George Herbert Mead’s, Mind, Self, and Society the themes of mind, symbols, and the essence of meaning are discussed at length. According to Mead the concept of “mind” is a process that allows the individual to make choices in his own course of action. In essence the mind allows the person to weigh out the pros and cons of conduct, allowing him to envision future consequences and act accordingly. The ability to control present behaviors with thoughts of possible future outcomes is the crux of intellectual behavior.
In order to achieve this behavioral control we turn to symbols. “Symbols stand for the meanings of those things or objects which have meaning.” As human beings we think visually. Although the objects, people, and things that occupy our thought processes are not right in front of us at all times, we are able to picture them clearly within our minds. This ability allows us to envision potential scenarios and rehearse our behavior before engaging in it.
Mead then goes on to discuss the concept of meaning. He defines it through a “threefold relationship” between “an individuals gestures, the response by another to that gesture, and the completion of the social act initiated by the gesture of the first individual.” It is a message being communicated to people that is understood and reciprocated appropriately. Mead explains that meaning is not “intrinsic to a given object or action”, rather it exists only when there is an interaction with a goal in mind that ends with a desired result. Only if a desired response is elicited does an interaction hold meaning.
How then can we ensure meaning in anything we do? We can try all we want to express ourselves with a goal in mind, but if people do not understand our intentions what good is any expression? Mead explains that there can only be coordination and successful interactions with the development of language in the form of significant symbols. Significant symbols “are words and gestures that have the same meaning for all those involved in a social act.” The use of significant symbols are apparent in everyday life. I personally feel that the people that are most similar to me in back round and up-bringing understand me the most. The farther I move away from those people and on to others the more of a communication gap there is. I’m not talking about language barriers, but rather to certain gestures and ways of expression. I think significant symbols lie on a spectrum and the more an individual is aware of your own, the easier it is for them to understand and interact with you.
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- Nicole Hala