Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Seeing metaphors is the first task

Seeing metaphors is the first task for seeing deeper levels of meaning. From seeing them you can move to listening for them.   

First a definition: meta new   phor place
Aristotle wrote about metaphors in his book on Rhetoric. 

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. One lady came back saying, "I couldn't find any. 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, an engineer, as to what metaphors meant. He was the most academically educated in the group yet with no awareness of how metaphors function in our language and communication. At the end of the evening he said they were the key to communication. The word key told me, “He got it.”

Sports writers and coaches delight their readers with metaphors that are easy to see. Whether they understand how language works I do not know. I do know they know how to make language work. And what I do is help people know, what they already know, but don’t know they know. 

“sweep the series. It was a clean sweep.” This is no ordinary broom. This is metaphorical language engaged in communicating. 

What did you find in the sports page today? Take a look and circle the orientation and root metaphors 

Sports writers, coaches, and players move metaphors to explain in a short hand way what is happening. Todays Quad City Times (Friday, March 29, 2019) is no exception. The article is about the Pleasant Valley girls track team, the sprinters and their relay coach. The coach is quoted, “when you have the versatility of the kids we have, it becomes a chess match.”  Following the suggestion of Johnson and Lakoff in Metaphors for Everyday Life we have an orientation metaphor, versatile, and a root metaphor, chess match.” I guess the chess match refers to the coach moving runners to different places. The article gives examples before “chess match” is used. “Chess match” becomes a summary of what has preceded. 

Another example from the past.

Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa coach did it after the Wisconsin Game. “We’re not the prettiest car in the lot,” Ferentz said, “but that’s OK. We’re having a lot of fun.” Who would match a car lot with a team at a football game? "Not the prettiest car in the lot" was his description of the Hawkeye team metaphorically speaking. Obviously they are not literally a car in the lot and then "not the prettiest car." He has moved the expression to represent his team. And you don't have to be "pretty" to win and you can have a "lot of fun" at the same time. In a more earthy way others say, "they get the job done." Here "job done" is moved to describe the Hawkeyes.

 Root Metaphors and Orientation Metaphors: 
Root metaphors are nouns and direct objects. Johnson and Lakoff use “time is money” as root metaphors in our culture. We talk about budgeting our time, saving time, and spending our time (Johnson and Lakoff, page 7-8).
Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and above all, prepositions (Lakoff and Johnson, pages 9-24). We can easily miss how much prepositions tell us as they move from "down in the basement," "the stock market is down," and "down in the dumps." Without getting overly complicated, as some explanations can, I stick to these two basic kinds of metaphors for gaining a better understanding for listening to stories.
Examples from my hospital experience.   
Fire makes poets of us all: Shakespeare.

As we search for words to explain the unexplainable we resort to metaphors, moving words we understand to what we do not understand. The reality, you can not construct a sentence without using metaphors. It isn’t realistic to look or listen for every word. Find the metaphor as Aristotle suggests means find the key words that are the heart of the story. Sometimes hidden. Sometimes unsaid. Sometimes out in the open as clear as day. We move words around to different places as innovative as poets. We are meaning and image makers.

“The doctor dropped a bomb on me today.” The remark of a wife outside of the Intensive Care Unit after the doctor had told her about her husbands condition. He said, “Her husbands mental confusion may not clear up soon.” I notified her church. later in the day after various visitors dropped by she said, “My husband and I have weathered many storms.” She moved from shattered to finding a way through. Her metaphors tell her story.

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

Marlin Whitmer

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