Symbolic Efficacy

February 10, 2020

Claude Levi Strauss, an important French theorist and anthropologist considered a master for many people, formulated a concept that is very fashionable nowadays: the “symbolic efficacy” theory – which is the idea of “positive thinking”, or else, that what happens in your life is a result of what you believe in. That might be a fact, but it is not a magic. There is a whole process going on.

 

 

 

 

Levis Strauss's came up with this concept of Symbolic Efficacy in his search for an explanation for the reason why some things happen in a way that appears to be magical - for example, when a member of a tribe is healed only by the words of the shaman – this is the essence of the concept of Symbolic Efficacy.

 

Beliefs, in some circumstances, are more powerful than the momentary reality.

 

The positive results achieved in some researches involving placebo is another good example of the Symbolic Efficacy phenomenon.

 

In a more modern way, I read the example quoted by a doctor who wrote a book about how religiosity may have an impact on health, in which he told the story of a Jewish lady who had had a transplant involving a pig's organ– and it is known that the Jewish religious prohibits the use of pig.

 

The surgery was a success, but unexpectedly, the patient began to regress and enter in a complicated state of health. She said she was suffering divine punishment for having a forbidden element within her body. They then called a rabbi who prayed with the lady and said she was allowed to "use" the pig's organ because it is also in the Jewish law that everything that concerns the health of the person overrides all other demands. After the rabbi's "blessing", the lady immediately began to improve and recover.

 

What does this case have to do with the reality of our current aging?

 

Just as there is the concept of placebo, the remedy that one believes will provide cure, and that has a positive impact on the healing process, there is the idea of Nocebo: something someone believe will cause harm and that really ends up harming him in some way.

 

We were born and raised with this mindset in which we grew up listening and repeating that after a certain age all of our abilities start to deteriorate. We also believe that after a certain age, we are just going to end it all. Thus, we live immersed in the conviction that old age means precariousness, lacking,  poverty, necessity and impossibility, the exactly opposite of the qualities we believe we possess in our youth. Thus, we start to believe that life is only worthy while we are young.

 

As a result, the decrease in the investments we have made as a society and as individuals in supporting life when we are no longer young is brutal. The belief that old age means poverty and precariousness becomes true.

 

Undoubtedly, aging is a natural process of change that our animal nature undergoes on its way to the end. However, the idea that finitude is negative is only a belief, a man made construction that prevents us, as a society, from building an individual finalization with comfort and dignity.

 

This is the reality we have known so far: along with the physical aspects that weaken as we get older, such as muscle strength, bone resistance, visual capability and auditory functions – all physiological apparatus - the psychic and spiritual aspects can continue to develop after youth, such as tolerance towards oneself, the ability to integrate contradictory elements, the perception that things in life take time, and, therefore, the development of patience as well as the capability to learn how to be present in every moment.

 

The cultivation of these values would lead us to a state in which we are able to enjoy life to the fullest and with dignity from its very beginning to its end, not only during our youth but also in old age, as we are able to realize that the completion of life is also life!

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