Use of metaphors LO5698
Sat, 17 Feb 96 10:32 MST

Replying to LO5652 --

I agree with David (LO5631) and Steven (LO5652) regarding the
importance of metaphors in our lives. From my perspective, metaphors (or
mental models as Senge calls them) help people connect. Metaphors help to
bring about understanding and meaning through similar or shared
experiences by individuals, but also can potentially shape how people act,
and also what they see.
Lakoff and Johnson (1980) tell us that the essence of metaphor is
understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another (a
structural metaphor). They cite a number of different types of metaphors.
But, metaphors are important. They help us to better understand and
interpret our world. Lakoff and Johnson argue that human thought
processes are largely metaphorical. That is to say, that the human way of
knowing and understanding, the human conceptual system, is metaphorically
structured and defined.
The shadow side of metaphor (here I somewhat support Gray)
according to Johnson (1987) is that "metaphor is a pervasive, irreducible,
imaginative structure of human understanding that influences the nature of
meaning and constrains our rational influences." Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan,
Swidler, and Tipton (1991) support this perspective. They state, for
example, that not only do we create institutions, by that institutions
also create us. Our institutions educate and form us through the
metaphors they create. While metaphors do help us to better understand
and interpret our world, as with language, we must be aware of the
inherent danger in the use of metaphors that they not become
self-fullfilling prophecies.
Nancy Leys Stepan (1988) suggests that metaphors tend to become
dogmatic and non-metaphoric. A money and missiles metaphor applied to
business, for example, could enhance the power of what Yankelovich (1985)
calls "a money and missiles sense of reality." A money and missiles
metaphor would place emphasis on military power and economic realities
rather than the political and moral dilemmas our society faces today and
role businesses play in trying to address these problems.
Perhaps the question is not so much the use of metaphors as much
as the metaphors we select and how we use them? The danger may be in the
use of language and metaphors that narrowly define. If we are going to
use metaphors, perhaps we need to select those wherein credence is given
to the human aspects of life, a place where real people, in real life
contexts, struggle with the problems of that life and attempt to
articulate those struggles in a language common to that given life context
and based on their shared values, experiences, and contextual metaphors?
Some thoughts to share on a Saturday morning :)...
Peace to all...

Gary C. Alexander, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Educational Policy and Administration
University of Idaho


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