Sunday, November 23, 2014

A New Metaphor

From Wikipedia:
“In cognitive linguistics, conceptual metaphor, or cognitive metaphor, refers to the understanding of one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another. An example of this is the understanding of quantity in terms of directionality (e.g. "the prices are rising").”

The problem is the growing number of things we understand in terms of war.
  • “Love is war.”
  • Argument as war
  • Competition as war
  • Business as war

Let’s look at one for a moment, to understand why this is a problem. Argument as war. Arguments are debates; are differences of opinion, to be talked about and, if not worked out, at least used so we can better understand each other. People will often grow angry, but they don’t have to. Now let’s talk about that in terms of war:
  • He won the argument.
  • I attacked his weak points.
  • It gave me time to regroup.
All of a sudden, there is a winner and thus a loser. And I don’t want to be the loser, so I will do anything to win. “By any means necessary” has been popping up way too often recently. So before, there could be two people learning and growing out of this argument. Now there is a loser, and the need to win or beat the person. Take no prisoners, and certainly don’t admit to being wrong or even just learning something.

Love as war is even scarier. “I won her hand.” There was a battle? Who lost? Was it her? “I kept asking her out, and eventually her defenses crumbled.” Conquests. Victories. Truces and makeup sex. I’d die for you. Cupid shoots arrows! Instead of partnership, it becomes a success with treaties and compensation.

In Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman wrote about an attempt to replace our cultural stories. The idea was that if our underlying story was ‘might makes right’ and violence instead of the trickster tales of outsmarting people and making them look foolish (Anansi, Brer Rabbit, Coyote, Loki, etc), the world would get darker and scarier. A place where the strongest and most extreme will win.  And a place where anonymity and the willingness to go a little further than anyone else is a dangerous combination.

And you know, it feels like we’re there. I don’t know if he was describing the world he saw, or if life is imitating art. But I do know that I see more and more examples of the strong or the extreme winning.
  • Bullies on Twitter making families feel that they have to go hide for fear of their lives.
  • Terrorist groups are growing.
  • There have been 28 schools shootings in 2013 in the US!
  • Anti-Obama commentary and actual legal action.
  • Human trafficking and slavery is still happening.

So what do we do about this? We change our underlying metaphors. Instead of War, we find a more communicative and interdependent story. For me, driving has made a metamorphosis from ‘my lane’, ‘my right of way’ and a competition to ‘how can we all work together to get home safely?” We need to start looking at life, not as a battle but as a complicated dance with many, many partners.

But what do we do if we encounter someone with the War metaphor running strong? We need to have a better metaphor and show him (or her) the benefit of The New Way.

Now, what is that new metaphor?

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