Metaphors We Live By

The metaphors we choose to represent our lives are a huge component in how we perceive them and pursue them.

This year I read this book: Metaphors We Live By, by Lakoff and Johnson. I’d like to save you some time and money by recommending you do not read it. It was simply too academic to be an enjoyable read, unfortunately. Instead I’m going to summarise its message for you and how it affects us.

The book’s main point is that once we attach a metaphor to something it will take on facets of the literal meaning of the metaphor. The example used throughout the book is that an argument is a battle. There are ripostes, counter attacks, etc. You “defend your position.” The outcome is that arguments become more about achieving dominance than a mutually beneficial learning experience.

Which metaphors do we encounter in our world? One of the largest is “the red pill.” As a pill it sounds like medicine: a cure. There’s also the idea of the “bitter taste of the red pill” and people having it “lodge in their throats.” It reminds us of the phrase “a hard pill to swallow.” It’s also set up as red i.e. the opposite to blue and the blue pill. That sets the red pill and blue pill against each other.

How about “Game?” This might actually be helpful as it reminds us that “in the end it’s just a game.” That we shouldn’t take this, and ourselves, so seriously.

In the Daygame world we have “street hustling” and the “Daygame river.”

The important thing about metaphors is that they fill in the gaps behind the words. Rather than having to describe every last bit of something, every time we need to, we can turn towards a metaphor and let that do the work for us. And so even though the previous two examples could exist as one or two pages of a textbook we only need to remember the metaphor and we have a full set of rules on which to base our actions.

Last year I wrote a post called “The Horse and Cart Analogy” where I likened Daygame to a merchant bringing his wares to market in a horse and cart. By using that metaphor you can see Daygame as transactional and product driven.

Here’s another metaphor which I’ve just come up with:

Every set, date and lay is a series of notes in The Daygame Music. Each note combines to create the piece. And with music you naturally can’t just go up and up and up. You need the major and minor notes. You need the bridge – for the song to retreat – before building again to the chorus. Each note makes the other notes shine and so you can’t be sad for minor notes in the same way as you can’t be happy with only the major notes. You need the major and the minor notes to balance each other. In fact, there can only be major with minor. They are mutually arising. So it’s impossible to be brought down by a blow out because it’s through a seemingly negative series of events that it’s possible to enjoy the highs. Things can only get better if they are first worse and vice versa.

You can go ahead and describe your life with any metaphor you like. Or you can use someone else’s and let them do the work for you. There’s no moral superiority in either path. The important thing to realise is that we are responsible for imbuing certain meanings in our actions and that it can’t be escaped. There’s not enough time to describe things without metaphors. So which one will you choose?

Yours unfaithfully,

Thomas Crown

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