Symbolic Interactionism

Several sociologists have suggested simple ideas with revolutionary impacts that have moved society. I find George Herbert Mead’s concept of symbolic interactionism especially interesting and applicable to my own life. By focusing on the symbolism that forms individual relationships, we can better understand societal ideologies and norms on a larger scale.

Literally anything can be a token of a certain memory or emotion; such as a color or sound or routine activity. Through those tokens, or symbols, I come to interpret the world and myself based on if those symbols are positively or negatively associated. Mead’s theory suggests we analyze a situation based on emotions, things surrounding us when the situation occurred, and other inanimate and seemingly unrelated things; and then label those experiences and interactions with some deeper meaning. His student, Herbert Blume, proposed that symbolic interactionism is constructed of three parts: 1) we act based on the meaning we give something, 2) the same symbol can have a different meaning for different people, and 3) meanings can change (Brown 2013). By doing this, we are able to assess situations and make decisions for our lives. A simple example would be my evening routine. When the sun starts to set, I typically change into something dark and more comfortable, since I’ll be going to bed soon. Being comfortable also helps me wind down, so my action depends on the meaning it has to me (Blumer 1969). When I was little, my dad wore navy blue pajamas when we cuddled, so I have always associated dark colors with comfort and safety. My roommate has optimistic superstitions and has a theory that the lighter and more colorful you dress, the more positive of an experience you will have. Where I see dark clothing as comforting and modest, she sees it as depressing and dismal. The colors are symbolically different for us based on our experiences (Blumer 1969). To support Blumer’s third section of Mead’s theory; if I had a nightmare wearing dark colors or became too hot and did not sleep well because of the clothing, my interpretation of dark clothing for comfort might change.

I find this theory to be important to acknowledge specifically for Blumer’s second construct about the same symbol having different meanings for different people. In order to achieve harmony in a society, a sense of tolerance and respect for others’ opinions and perspectives is integral. Simply because someone else’s truth is different from mine, does not invalidate what is true for them. I notice that our society sometimes fails to recognize that; and instead of trying to understand and find common ground and compromise, we are quick to judge based on our ignorance. By studying and applying this theory, we have the opportunity for better communication and teamwork because of a healthier understanding of others’ motivations and emotions. [Word Count: 472]

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