Donald Trump is a lout and oafish buffoon. He may be a good business person, but he is wholly unqualified to be President and, thankfully, just about everyone knows it. Bernie Sanders is smarter and clearly demonstrates a capacity for empathy and self-awareness that The Donald sorely lacks. But he’s not going to be President either. Yet both are generating a lot–or as Trump would say, “yuge”–amount of attention.
And the reason is this: they are both powerful symbols.
Symbols of the frustration that so little gets done in Washington. Symbols of being fed up with politicians that are more concerned with avoiding a gaffe than speaking the truth. Symbols of the fear over where America is headed, even if their takes are polar opposites. And their potential impact as symbols should not be taken lightly.
Symbols matter because they tell a story that goes beyond the mere facts, the puts and takes, the purely rational and what may seem most expedient in the moment.
…when as people others look up to, we speak out against injustice and immorality even if some people won’t like it or us.
…when as business people, we do the right thing on behalf of a customer even if it is unprofitable in the short-term.
…when as parents, we model the behavior we wish our children to emulate even if, in the moment, they don’t “get it.”
…when as leaders of organizations we celebrate noble failures even if we had hoped for a different tangible result.
…when as human beings, we look each other in the eyes and simply connect even if it feels awkward and uncomfortable.
Symbols often rise above the typical narrative and tap into something more visceral.
Symbols remind us that people buy the story before they buy the product.