What symbols represent

On a storm-streaked road, danger lay ahead in the dark night. About the same spot where the busy four-lane highway merged into two lanes, the road started on a sharp and curving upward grade.

Even in the best weather, motorists not familiar with the abrupt changes in the road would find themselves in driving circumstances that required extra concentration. The combination of a storm-soaked night and a driver unfamiliar with the road easily could add up to tragedy.But even first-time motorists on that stretch of highway have a series of allies. Yellow signs with black markings warn that four lanes will soon become two and that a hill and curves are ahead. Drivers who pay attention to the highway signs, even on stormy nights, have a better chance of proceeding safely.

The signs carry no printed words. They convey their messages with universally understood symbols. For untold thousands, the heeding of those symbols can literally mean the difference between life or death.

Symbols, such as those on traffic and highway signs, have great importance in our lives. Other symbols, though not crucial to our well-being, also have great meaning. One example is the wedding ring. Whether made of gold, silver, platinum or some other element, it is a symbol treasured by many. It symbolizes love and commitment, marriage and fidelity. Whether bought at a jewelry store, inherited as an heirloom or crafted by the groom or bride, it symbolizes to all that the wearer has made certain vows. And to the wearer, it is a constant reminder of those vows.

Another symbol has emerged in recent months – a symbol of freedom in the form of little pieces of concrete from the fallen Berlin Wall. A tourist or citizen who has a remnant of the downed barrier has a symbol of mankind's grasp for freedom.

Nations have their official or unofficial symbols: flags and anthems, statues and emblems. Canadians recognize the maple leaf as a representation of their great nation, and the U.S. government has laws to protect the bald eagle, which is depicted on its coat of arms. The "union jack" flies as the United Kingdom's flag. The rising sun is a symbol of importance to the Japanese.

Symbols can have different meanings to different people. In one family, a raised hand and crossed fingers is a private symbol that conveys love and unity. To others, the same raised hand and crossed fingers could be interpreted as meaning there is hope that all goes well, that luck will hold out.

Symbols have only the meaning that people give them. Some symbols have been given inordinate value. For many, costly cars, extravagant homes and expensive clothes are symbols of worldly success. In some cases, these tangible objects have been given more meaning than almost everything else.

All ages are affected by symbols, but the young are especially vulnerable. Lacking maturity and good judgment, some young people choose their friends by using certain fashion symbols as criteria. They look for specific labels on shoes, shirts and jackets. If the "right" labels aren't there, they are hesitant to consider forming a friendship. They don't want to be seen with those they call "nerds" or with those who aren't part of the popular crowd. Too young and immature to see how shallow their thinking really is, they inflict emotional wounds on others and, at the same time, deprive themselves of what could be rewarding associations.

Without a good sense of self-esteem, the young often bring pain upon themselves as they agonize over what's in fashion and whether they can afford it. To them, fashion labels are more important than function, fit or even comfort.

The very young aren't the only ones who lack perspective. In some circles, friends and associates become symbols that individuals have been accepted in a particular social class. Unscrupulous individuals feign mutual interests, use flattery, compromise beliefs and principles, and turn away from those who could be true friends. Their ulterior motive is to be accepted by those who might help boost their careers or social lives.

Some symbols are crucially important in our lives, and ought to be honored and respected. Each one of us must determine for ourselves which symbols have value and importance in our lives. Let us choose carefully and wisely.