Analogies and Metaphors

The world is infinitely complex, and any attempt to simplify, which means the elimination of contradictory elements, will fail to capture that complexity. One can, however, attempt to compress or condense those elements into a more abbreviated or altered form. That is the role of metaphor.
ā€” Kit White, 101 Things to Learn in Art School (first spotted here)

In was in the woods, in my wellies, a long time ago, when my sister said to me proudly “my dad knows these woods like the back of his hand”. (If you’re thinking ‘isn’t that a smilie’ – just go with the narrative)
So I took of my glove, and studied the back of my hand to learn about the woods. Then checked the other before concluding that my Dad’s hand must have a map on it, because mine clearly didn’t. His hand was easily big enough for a map.

I’ve been pondering since a few months back, and listening out for language used to describe concepts and application of theories, through metaphors and analogies.

One of my books (my ‘would be’ #mysixbooks as David G shares here) is full of metaphors. Miller and Rollnick describe strength focused collecting summaries as picking a bouquet of flowers and handing it to someone, in motivational interviewing. Another is the climbing to the top of the mountain with patience and acceptance before change is approached. That motivational interviewing is like dancing, the music is the spirit and the steps are the skills – collaborating, coming alongside. And not forgetting the empathy pit analogy.

I hear how they can bridge a gap and enable assimilation of a new concept or theory. I’ve first hand seen the lightbulb moments afforded by an effective abstract figure of speech.
Equally so, a poorly placed metaphor or analogy can create distance between the speaker and listener/group/reader. With the potential to further confuse.
I wonder, is your analogy fitting for you? Or your audience?
Does it help you understand?
Or will it help the person you’re talking to understand?
Does the language you use allows your idea to leap across cultural or contextual boundaries to reach another’s reality? Or does it firmly place the concept out of reach? ‘You will need to come of here if you want to understand this’.

For me, I’ve often gone from a position of understanding to complete confusion – after a metaphor or analogy has been used to explain something. With the apparent intention of providing greater clarity. Or maybe just for comedic effect.
Actually, I was comfortable with the concept from your initial explanation. In fact, I was just starting to ‘making sense’ of it. Creating my own example, with relevance and context, and considering how I might apply it. Whether I agree with you or want to challenge – that wonderful feeling of on the edge of figuring out something new, understanding what you were saying, feeling stretched, but alive by what you had to pass on. Engaged in the complexity.
Then out of nowhere, flying in side-ways you offered an(other) example. Nay, more an abstract analogy, juxtaposing the phraseology.

So I wonder why.
Did I look confused? Is my ‘learning’ face the same as my ‘clueless’ face?
[note to self – to improve self-awareness, check this out in mirror next time each occur].

Again recently in the space of 30mins someone was throwing the baby out with the bath-water. No babies. No bath. No water. But lots of leadership theory and debate.
Then someone was wearing stilettos to walk on cobbles. We were inside, wearing flats, talking about coping with failure.
Oh and that reference to a 70s sketch show. Was it your intention to exclude those born after the 70s who haven’t had the inclination to seek out and watch it? “You won’t get this but it’s like…”.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) literature is full of analogies – whole books of CBT analogies. Potentially great for training, but as I recently read the plant analogy: the roots are the values, the earth the beliefs, the stem is attitude…. it went on. This new explanation appeared more complicated than just explaining, simply, what CBT is. The metaphors is then post-penny-drop, to support remembering and applying.

There appears to be value in the constructivism, and constructionism of a clarifying metaphor – only that’s just it: constructs. Whilst I love my imagination, value yours too, Einstein once said (according to one of those websites which is probably quoting heroes erroneously) “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it enough”.

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