The symbols that we call words

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What picture comes into your head when I say the word "apple"?


A yummy crunchy green apple?

Maybe a red one?

Maybe a fresh apple hanging on a tree?

Maybe it's rotten?

Maybe it's in a bowl?

Maybe it's the flavour of apple separate from any physical form?

Maybe a juice?

Maybe it's a type of tree?

........or maybe it's an electronics company that makes tablets, phones, and computers?


The point is this, there are many different things that could potentially come into people's heads when we say "apple".


There is a big gap between the word and the understood meaning, a gap which is crossed differently by different people.


Now of course I could expand on this and explain I meant a crisp, green, fresh apple sitting in a fruit bowl, but even then, there are details missing.


How big is it?  Is it a cooking apple, or crab apple?


The essential point here is that no amount of additional words can fully represent the apple in all it's detail.  Let alone the word apple on it's own.


Why?  Because words can only represent a small part of their subject.


Words as symbols

In the absence of the apple itself, words are generally the chosen way of representing the concept of the apple.


Words are symbols that can represent a basic understanding of the subject, enough for us to communicate with reasonable effectiveness, but they still mean different things to different people.


Now, apples are something fairly well understood.  Whether the fruit or products of the electronics company, they are a physical entity that has been experienced first-hand by most of the people we communicate with.  So, the variation in interpretation experienced when using this word isn't too great.


However this changes when we start to use words that move away from common physical object and into more conceptual ideas.


Words like happiness, success, leadership, fulfilment, value, stress, blocks, peace, abundance....


These words have vastly different meanings to different people.  Without the ability to put success literally in your hands, how can I demonstrate what I understand as success to you?  There is only one way.  With MORE words, more imperfect symbols.


Not understanding the true impact of this impaired my ability to learn from some amazing teachers for a long time, because I heard the words they were saying and with my interpretation of those words the communication made no sense.  So I wrote off what they were teaching as some sort of woo-woo nonsense and wondered if they actually needed help more than me!


However, the human mind is capable of amazing things and can actually relearn the meanings of words over time.  As I was exposed more and more to many amazing teachers my vocabulary shifted.  Suddenly words that meant one thing to me before, meant something completely different now, and those ideas that I had so quickly written off?  Now, I saw value there.  Armed with my new language I was able to take that value and use it to improve my life.



Words are imperfect symbols

The foundation section of the website is designed to introduce you to 3 core ideas and this is the first:


Words are imperfect symbols.


We live in a world where we communicate with imperfect symbols and this is felt most in discussions around the abstract.  No two human beings share the same understanding of all words, and that's ok.  There is no right and wrong meaning, there is simply mine, yours, and of course everybody else's.  So, as you read the articles on any self development site bear in mind the following:


Sometimes people will noticeably use words to mean different things to what you would mean using that word.  Don't get hung up over it.  Don't worry about which meaning is 'right', just accept the differences in language and keep going.


If you find that some articles seem to be nonsense, woo-woo, or not related to the real world then ask yourself, what words would I have to swap for this to make sense to me?  Alternatively come back to the article later, because as you read more, you will come to understand more of other people's currently alien use of language.

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