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I do some of my best thinking when I go on a run.  The longer the run, the more thoughts that I have.  And the longer the run, the more time I have to analyze those thoughts and poke holes in them and decide if it’s something I want to further explore.  The problem comes with remembering all the great thoughts I had while I was running.

This morning I went for a run, just glad to be able to run without the humidity.  I’m starting to train for another half marathon, so it’s time to get serious.

As usual, it doesn’t take long for my brain to start doing what it does best – thinking.  I think about all sorts of things when I run.  Many times I ponder and contemplate big things going on in the world.  Sometimes it is politics, sometimes theology, and a host of other things deemed “important” by society.  Other times I get caught up in thoughts about small details.  It just depends on what is striking me at the moment.

Today my brain focused in on a different topic – symbolism vs. substance.  Or maybe better put – symbolism and substance.

When I thought about these two words, it struck me how many wars and fights have happened throughout time over symbols.  It seems like symbols have created more conflict than anything else.  Humanity has fought over such symbols as flags, cultural foods, cakes, coins, paper, chairs (yes, chairs), pens, houses, and so much more.  Why do people fight over these things?  The only answer I could come up with is because these are material things that we can touch, see, taste, hear and feel and that a group of people placed some kind of importance on these objects.  Tangible things are easy to fight over – we get to use our senses and they seem so real.  And when the fight is over and one of these tangible things is defeated, destroyed, removed, or embraced fully, then we think the war is over and that things have changed and we can move on.

Only, that’s not the case, is it?  So often we get caught up in the symbolism of a tangible item and forget to look at the intangible associated with it.  The intangible is harder.  The intangibles are the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, habits and so much more that goes on inside each person.  Removing a tangible thing doesn’t end what goes on inside a person.

Americans are very good at fighting over symbols.  But we aren’t very good at looking at the substance.  Looking at the substance of a situation means investing time, listening for understanding, questioning (but not questioning in an attacking way), thinking, contemplating, and actual actions that make real changes.  Examining the substance of a situation or issue means recognizing that we don’t fully understand the situation or issue and probably never will.  It means moving past the rhetoric and one liners to long dialogue and opening yourself and your ideas up to scrutiny to see where the holes are in the arguments.  And there are always holes in the arguments.  If you think you have the whole truth, I challenge you to find someone who sees an issue or situation completely different and just sit and listen to them.  Don’t argue with that person, but try to gain understanding of how they came to their conclusion.  Don’t worry about being right, but rather, focus on learning and how to move closer to truth.

Symbols are important.  Why else would people fight over and be willing to die for them.  Understanding what symbols mean to different people is just as important.  However, this should not overshadow the importance of understanding the substance of an issue or situation.

Both symbolism and substance are important.  Without one, you don’t have the whole picture.

For me running is both symbolic and full of substance.  The substance of running is the sense that it represents health, freedom, achievement, endurance and determination.  The symbol of all of these things are my running shoes, clothes and ipod.  Both the symbols and the substance are important to me.  What symbols are important to you and why?