This is “Culture is Symbolic”, section 2.7 from the book Cultural Intelligence for Leaders (v. 1.0).
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SymbolsVerbal and nonverbal representations that link human beings to each other. Because the meaning attached to symbols is arbitrary, different interpretations of a symbol can occur in different cultural contexts. are both verbal and nonverbal in form within cultural systems, and they have a unique way of linking human beings to each other. Humans create meaning between symbols and what they represent; as a result, different interpretations of a symbol can occur in different cultural contexts. Take, for example, a meeting of senior executives who need to make a decision about a new service. This group of leaders has a team culture that orients itself toward a democratic process: decision making is based on one vote from each member. Now imagine a similar group of leaders with the same task but, this time, the group of leaders is comprised of Native Americans. Leaders who are younger in the group ask their elders for advice. This is an example of how cultural systems differ in their interpretation and expressions of culture. In some cultural systems, voting is not an option. The symbol of a vote has different meanings and interpretations—or simply may not even exist in any practical sense—depending on the cultural background.