Copyright © People First Impact Method 2014

Participant Handout 4

Symbols and Communication

“When reeds are combined, they form a strong basket.”

Every family, community and nation has stories and images telling of their important
events, heroes and memories. There is usually something significant behind these
things representing an experience or person. Symbols communicate deep meaning
and profound human experiences and personal history. All people and cultures have
and create symbols, proverbs and stories. Entire life philosophies of societies are
often expressed in proverbs handed down from generation to generation. Anything
can have symbolic personal or communal value. Symbols can be stories, proverbs
etc, that convey meaning to individuals, groups and societies. They exist within
societies and communities and within the intimacy of families and relationships.

For example in Northern Ghana the seats of deceased family members are kept in
the family compound – a symbol of the important place of ancestors. Symbols are
communication points that evoke strong feelings, memories and meaning. The
handing down of family heirlooms from generation to generation is important in many

The deepest level of communication and meaning is often through the language of
symbols. They enable us to express and describe our experience. They are
concentration points of impact. They can be therapeutic. It is very important for
people, even in the midst of an emergency, to be given the space and respect to
discuss and share what is most important to them and why.

When people use symbolic language, we know they are getting to a deeper
communication level – the higher levels of the communication pyramid. We need to
be engaged and in touch with this and to respond appropriately and encouragingly,
so the group can identify and name what the impact is in their lives. Being in touch
with meaning and key experiences of the past and present is central for a group to
achieve a shared understanding of the changes they see as most important and
what they want changed.