‘Metaphors for Life’ – Repost with comments

What metaphors can you come up with?

Metaphors for Life – (Oct 28, 2014)

I started this blog using the journey metaphor, chatting about various publishing aspects and accomplishing them step by step, including dance steps! It seems to me that, like me, just about everyone has bought into the metaphor that life is a journey. I know it is a metaphor I took for granted. I don’t know what started me off, but the other day I started thinking about it: specifically, how it evolved into such a pervasive meme. It’s young compared to other, more biblical metaphors, such as life is a lesson we must learn from or a test we must pass.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of those metaphors. Life being a lesson sounds like I have to be diligent and hardworking all the time. There is no hint of play. I need to pay attention, memorise my subject and prepare for tests on which my future depends. (If you believe in a stern God, this may sound right to you). Life being a test, in which we are tested and must rise to the occasion (and if we haven’t learned our lesson – or even if we have – will be tested again), sounds like a challenge on the one hand and unrelenting hardship on the other; where an unseen hand will smack us with various unpleasantnesses at any time, and the consequences of failure are dreadful.

I think the journey metaphor became so popular because there’s a lot one can do with it. For starters, it is much more neutral and has the possibility of fun and excitement and newness in it, the ability to make our own way in the directions we choose. We can stay on the straight and narrow or venture into unexplored territory or roads less taken. We can turn back or travel with someone or travel alone. Also, if life is a journey, sometimes I need to stop traveling. There are different reasons for this – safety, rest, enjoyment of where I am are, waiting for others to catch up and so on. This metaphor makes us the hero of our own story. All of this is much nicer than lessons and tests. But just because nicer is nicer does not mean that it is, in fact, a good metaphor for all of us, all the time. You see, metaphors guide our behaviour. We live a certain way if we think a certain way.

How would my thinking about life – and therefore how I behave and act – change if I dropped ‘Life is a journey’ and picked up ‘Life is something else’? How would I live my life differently if I believed that life was a puzzle? Or a wad of cash? Or a river? Or cable TV? Or the internet? Or an algorithm?

What would change if rather than journeying, I was finding pieces that fit? Or choosing what I spend on, because I only have a certain amount of money? Or preparing for rapids? Or watching a hundred channels? Surfing which websites and using which software? Or fine-tuning my code?

Each metaphor gives subtle differences, differing from other metaphors in tiny degrees of the how of doing things, that can make huge shifts in my life, simply because my perspective changes.

For example, if I believe that life is a journey, then I am going to somehow meet the love of my life somewhere along the way. If I believe that life is a puzzle, I’ll be actively testing different pieces for the love that fits. If life is a wad of cash, do I believe that love is free or priceless or something I can buy? If life is a river, I’ll be careful to prepare for rocks and undertows in relationships, never expecting things to flow smoothly, suffering when the river runs dry, being overwhelmed when it floods and sweeps me away, but basking in enjoyment when the river flows in such a way that I can float. Did I realise that I could miss the love of my life because I was watching another program? Or that I could always rewind and catch up on what I missed? I can’t go back in time in the journey metaphor because there is a clear past, present and future, but I can if I’ve got PVR.

How do I feel about those?

I could go on, but I expect you get what I’m getting at: that we should not just accept the metaphors we’re given. It is worthwhile to choose them consciously, or even make up our own. Not only once, mind you, but whenever the old one no longer suits our circumstances.

You see, how we live our lives depends on it.

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