Two thousand years ago, a tree was cut down in order to make a wooden tool of execution for a rebellious Jew that had been sentenced to death by the Roman Empire. Today, that tool is known throughout the world as a symbol of life, sacrifice and redemption, and is embedded in our history, our culture and even our jewelry. Two hundred thirty years ago, a cloth was fashioned by a simple woman living in a Revolutionary colony, adorned with red and white stripes and thirteen stars. Today, hundreds of millions of men, women and children hold their hands to their hearts and pledge allegiance to that cloth, now with fifty stars, for the freedom and Republic for which it stands.
Symbols are a powerful thing. All throughout time, humanity has been using everything from nature and clothing to employment areas and political status as representatives of who they are, what they believe in, and how they live. Sometimes these symbols represent strength and power, sometimes they represent humility and poverty, and sometimes they represent strife and bloodlust. These symbols are the root of our freedoms, our knowledge, our reservations, our languages, our religions, our anxieties and our governments; just about everything in our lives with any meaning has symbolism attached to it.
But not all symbols are inanimate objects or social statuses. No, the most important and influential symbols are humans. History is full of men and women who serve as symbols to the ideals for which they stood: Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, who stood for freedom and equality, spoke his timeless words: “I have a dream,” and will forever go down in history as a symbol of the Dream of Equality and Freedom for all men of all skin colors. Adolf Hitler, who stood for power and dominance, pushed for a utopian world free of those he deemed unworthy. Today, his name is practically a synonym for the word “evil” for his eugenicist methods and godlike influence on the world; an influence all nations pray will never be seen again.
It is these men and women who we look to when our lives are difficult, whose philosophies we source when we are inspired, whose existence we blame when we fail, and whose example we strive to either follow or avoid at all costs. It is by the hands and words of men like George Washington and women like Mother Theresa that each generation finds inspiration and motivation to improve their lives and the lives of those around them and achieve remarkable feats that turn the known world on its heels.
I believe in striving to be symbols ourselves, drawing upon the inspirations of men and women that came before us and changed the world. Perhaps one day, people will see a picture of us and instantly think of what we stood for and how we changed the world, for better or worse, and be inspired by our own words and actions, learning to become symbols themselves. It is by thinking and being extraordinary that we can change the world, so that we are remembered throughout history as more than just people, but representatives of something bigger than ourselves. And so our thousand books are written.
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