Inspiring Symbols

Mahatma Gandhi had a problem. He needed to inspire his fellow citizens to pursue independence from British rule. Independence was a different concept to grasp. What Gandhi needed was a symbol that everyone could understand, but also made it meaningful to their daily lives.

What Gandhi did was to start a program of weaving cloth called khadi. For years, India had manufactured its own cloth. Under British rule, India farmers provided the raw materials and sent them to England to be made into cloth. Then the cloth would be returned to India and sold.

Gandhi had the idea that Indians would produce their own cloth. They would spin the raw materials into yard and weave their own cloth. Everyone, including Gandhi himself, would be involved in making cloth.

Handwoven cloth became the symbol for inspiring independence from British rule. For a symbol to be inspiring, it needs to involve active engagement. Think about the concept of democracy. What symbol inspires you? Is it the American flag, a bald eagle, or the national anthem? Or is it a photo of a young teenager supporting an older person getting them to the polls.

Those who inspire others are good at creating symbols that show engagement and are memorable. Think of the concept of an inspiring symbol as a memory anchor. It’s a song that keeps playing in your mind.

Inspiring symbols are ones we visualize. Think of the symbolic inspiration of a food company’s annual report where all of the senior executives are shown wearing hair nets. That’s memorable. It shows engagement. It’s memorable. And it’s one that everyone can relate to.

What symbol represents you? That a tough thing to ask, but the answer once you find it can be your conscience. Just having that symbol in mind will be a guide for how you act in moments of truth when you may be challenged to maintain your better self.

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“It is a symbol evoking a reality that touches the depths of the person… the light of goodness that vanquishes evil, of love that overcomes hatred, of life that defeats death.” –Pope Benedict XVI

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.