Thursday, May 18, 2017

Seeing metaphors

After reflecting on what Mr. Giebelstien was teaching me about metaphors, and rereading Susan Langer’s chapter in “Philosophy in a New Key” ( 1947) where she writes about metaphors, read in 1952, I set out to change the Befriender listening model to the art of story metaphor listening. The metaphors would provide the clues for feeling and meaning in the patient’s story.

The Sports page in the daily newspaper became my resource. I was a reader of the Sports page and now I could see the metaphors more plainly myself. I am continually entertained.

On Tuesday, 5/9/2017, the Quad City Times had an article about the baseball team at Blackhawk College. They have good “chemistry.” My first year of college was filled with courses to become a chemical engineer. I don’t think taking up baseball would be considered a chemistry course.

The next day the headlines of an article cautioned about pushing the “panic button” because of the Chicago Cubs poor start.

My way of teaching the Befriender model of listening starts with “seeing.” The first session in their training after the orientation was on metaphors. I sent folks home to check out the sports page for metaphors.

Women often said, "My husband won't know how to handle that." My response, “tell him you're studying metaphors.” You can ask others to join in the exercise to start the discipline. The sad reality is that most people have no clue about how metaphors function in our everyday language and yet they use them all the time.

I gave people a definition of metaphor. From the Greek, meta – new, and phor – place. We move a familiar word to a new place to explain the unfamiliar. After winning the pennant last year the Cubs are in the new place losing game after game. The writer cautions about pushing the "panic button."

Simile and analogy are forms of metaphor. And a few years later in the training as my learning increased I added to the definition with root and orientation metaphors.

The next training session with the Befrienders I would start with their findings in the Sport paage and hand out more pages for more practice.

Initially they would circle the metaphors. Later circle the root metaphors and put a rectangle around the orientation metaphors. They found many more orientation metaphors, the same is true in conversation when you learn to hear them.

The orientation metaphor “resistance” was part of the language container I had to deal with. I now accept this as a given initial issue. I expect “resistance” to appear in some way on this blog.

One lady came back to class saying, "I couldn't find any metaphors.  I asked my grandson to help and he could not find any either. This is too difficult." I said thanks for the metaphor. She was puzzled. "Difficult" is an "orientation" metaphor. You can move difficult to a lot of different places. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions. Root metaphors are nouns, pronouns, and often direct objects.

One year a gentleman started from ground zero in identifying metaphors and their meaning. As his story was told I learned he was a very talented electrical engineer who had written professional papers. He was more educated than most of us. At the end of the session he said they were the key to communication. He had been using metaphors for years without knowing it. It is as if metaphors work more on the unconscious level.

Seeing metaphors is the first task for seeing deeper levels of meaning. 

From seeing them you can move to hearing them.   

change the metaphor you change your story
change the story you change your future

The writers of the Psalms are masters at this, especially the laments.

To be continued,

Marlin Whitmer

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