Reagan. Symbols. You.

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Communication theory involves learning to understand symbols, and Ronald Reagan’s death provides a rich opportunity to observe how symbols originate from the source but can be interpreted in widely different ways.

Reagan is that rare individual who experienced celebrity as both entertainer and politician. He was on the public stage a long time and as a result most of us have a rich repository of Reagan moments. And yet for most of us his lifetime is captured and retrieved in a reductionist way we’ve taken all we know about him and have assigned it a simple set of words or visual images.

Everyone agrees Reagan’s self deprecating ways served him well. He turned perceived liabilities into a cause for self-mocking: his age, acting with chimps, even an attempted assassination (See Reagan quotes in our data base).

His supporters talk about the defeat of communism under his watch, his Soviet protagonist talks about what a good listener he was and his ideological foes at the NYT talk about his “luck, ill-advised foreign efforts and decade of greed.”

Most interesting is how his death after years of Alzheimer’s is being turned into advocacy for stem cell research in news and commentary.

I take the time to tease out the issue of symbols sent and interpreted because it is a core task for culturewatchers. I also think it is a sobering reminder that each of us is a symbol maker. Taken in the composite, our words, acts and demeanor will tend to be reduced into symbols by those who watch and hear us.

Reagan and staff worked hard to create and send certain messages and each of us possess an ¢â‚¬Ëœimage’ of Reagan, based on the symbols he sent and how we received them. On a lesser scale and local stage the same is happening with us.

As followers of Jesus we desire to bring our projected symbols into harmony with desirable ones as defined by God. People who knowingly project images inconsistent with reality are called hypocrites, but when the image matches the reality that person is called sincere.

Ultimately God knows our heart and the truth and that is why our waking prayer ought to be: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto Thee oh Lord.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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  • ‚©CRS Communications 6/7/04

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