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Archives 2002:
Vol. 1, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Hope for the Future
Six Part Series on Science and Religion
First Three Parts of the Series on Leadership
Archives 2003:
Vol. 2, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Series on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society

Art and Politics
Living the Good Life
Teaching Teens
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Archives 2004:
Vol. 3, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness
Is "Liberal" a Dirty Word?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All

Archives 2005:
Vol. 4, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Standing up for Humanity
Unity in Diversity

Thought and Imagination
Imagination and Healing
Lessons of Katrina
Intelligent Design or Evolution

Archives 2006:
Vol. 5, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-Violent Political Change
Sustainable Development
Legalizing Torture
Living Without an Enemy
"Fast Food" is really "Slow Food"


Featured Articles about Responsibility, the Future and Consciousness:

Hope for the Future
Series on Leadership
Series on Global Consciousness
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Conflict, Harmony and Integrity
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-violent Political Change
Living Without an Enemy
Protecting Children: Words and Deeds

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April, 2009
8, Number 4

This Month's Article

The Power of Metaphor

The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

— Metaphors We Live By,
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, pg. 3

In these tragic times when we feel that we have lost control of our destiny, we may reflect on the signs that we chose to ignore. So far, the defining metaphor of the twenty-first century was the attack on and collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I do not know if Osama Bin Laden was genius enough to have foreseen the attack as a metaphor for what was to happen to the United States and the global economy in the decade following the attack, but surely with hindsight, one can say that the pillars of our economic power have collapsed. Perhaps he was just aware of the pride and character flaws in the Bush administration and the selfish underpinnings of the world financial markets. Perhaps he understood the psychology of hubris in his enemies and realized that with a well-placed attack, the enemy would self-destruct.

Depending on how one conceptualized the attacks of 9-11 there were several messages to which one could respond. Our collective shock, indignation and grief made most people and our leaders respond in anger and thus largely ignore some important lessons. A few individuals and groups, however, perceived the lessons defined by the metaphor of the attacks. The salient lessons also were attacks on our pride. One was the question: What had the United States done in the past to deserve such hatred that caused such attacks? The second was: Are the foundations of our consumer economy really on solid ground, meeting global needs and thereby sustainable? Those who eloquently described the lessons, such as Barbara Kingsolver in her book of essays, Small Wonder, were viewing the event as a metaphor in a global and timeless perspective, as a wake-up call for a great nation with great potential for good. They also wanted us to heal by taking actions that would express our true core values. She and others like her were severely criticized in the patriotic fervor that followed that day of destruction and grief. The wisdom of their voices was suppressed. As a nation we failed to heed the warnings and the opportunities that event offered. Instead, we followed our pride into the abyss.

Metaphors are not for hindsight, but for foresight — for a clearer vision of the future. Thus, if we interpret the second most powerful metaphor of the twenty-first century, the election of Barack Obama, we see revealed a promising future. That election as a metaphor filled with amazing symbolism may be a potent source for psychological renewal. America collectively passed a threshold of fear by electing a leader of such a background with such a name. The symbolism of that election was like an open door taken to escape the pursuit of the unfolding global nightmare: the ethnic and religious wars, the terrorism and fratricide, the global warming and failing economies. We must not simply dwell on the relative success or failure in cleaning up the mess we inherited, but we must also clearly see that as a nation we are ready to face the future. The power of the Obama metaphor is that, as a nation, we passed a major test. As a nation some healing force was experienced.

Metaphor is not just a convention of creative language. It is a way of looking at the layers that make our daily experience, or of looking at world events that impact our lives and perhaps foreshadow the future. In ancient Greece people consulted oracles before making decisions, or consulted “seers” to interpret the signs that may indicate appropriate actions to take. The metaphor is a way of framing the symbolism that reveals hidden, subjective or psychological dimensions of events.  Metaphor is the language of meaning, and the meaning of language communicated by images and the interplay of the circumstances that are the setting of events or concepts.

The essence of personal empowerment is to make informed decisions in full awareness of likely future consequences even if those consequences are not necessarily what one desires. Seeing the metaphors in our life reveals different points of view that may yield a fresh or broader perspective. For the Greeks the greatest character flaw was hubris. Hubris is the sin of pride that precipitates the downfall of the hero, and produces tragedy. Hubris is ignoring the signs because they are contrary to one’s desires or one’s image. One’s “image” is often tunnel vision built by pride. With pride one imagines that one is above social and natural controls and consequences, however, this imagined sense of “power” runs contrary to real empowerment.

If people were more adept at understanding the hidden meanings of the metaphors that they encounter in their everyday lives, they might change their perceptions and behavior or make choices that were more in tune with reality. Seeing events not just in a material way, that is, just a physical occurrence in time and space, would make people more perceptive and sensitive to the lessons that events are trying to communicate. This would develop insight and would improve actions and relationships.

© 2009 Richard V. Sidy


Read Related Articles

Beyond Ideology: The Politics of the Future

Moving Forward

Can Idealism Solve Problems?

Living Without an Enemy

World Peace in Less Than a Month?


Making Friends


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Archives 2005
Volumn 4
January: "Standing up for Humanity"
February: "The Wake of Disaster" – a poem
March: "Unity in Diversity
April: "Life is Calling"
May: "Entertainment" – a poem
June: "Thought and Imagination" part 1
July: "Thought and Imagination" part 2
August: "Imagination and Healing"
September: "Malice or Neglect? – Lessons of Katrina"
October: "Protecting Children"
November: "Intelligent Design or Evolution?"
December: "Building with one hand, destroying with the other"
Archives 2006
Volumn 5

January: "Conflict, Harmony, and Integrity"
February: "Satyagraha or Soul-force and Political Change"
March: "I Know I'm Not Alone - Wisdom of Michael Franti"
April: "Human Programming and Conflict Part I"
May: "Human Programming and Conflict Part II"
June: "Soccer Diplomacy"
July: "Sustainable Development is Nature's Way
August: "Parallel Universes"
September: "The News is not New"
October: "Legalizing Torture"
November: "Living Without an Enemy"
December: "Fast Food is really Slow Food"

Archives 2007
Volumn 6

January: "State of Fear"
February: Criminal Justice - "The Powerful Over the Weak"
March: "Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival"
April: "March Madness"
May: "No Child Left Behind" Leaves Many Teachers Behind
June: "Personal Ecology"
July: Criminal Justice - "The Ethic of Custodianship"
August: "Exploring the Mind - part 1"
September: "Exploring the Mind - part 2: The Poetic Mind
October: "How Much Pain Can We Stand?"
November: "When Languages Disappear"
December: "Is it Enough to be Tolerant?"

Archives 2008
Volumn 7

January: "Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future "
February: "Beyond the Bush Years"
March: "The Imaginary Economy - Part I
April: "The Imaginary Economy - Part II
May: Questions from Prison
June: "iGods and Connectivity"
July: "Energy Independence"
August: "Tribalism and the 2008 Elections
September: "Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice"
October: "Have We Been Willing Slaves?"
November: "Are We Ready for the Future?"
December: "Are we done learning from pain?"

Archives 2009
Volumn 8

January: "Awakening"
February: "When Sacrifice is no Sacrifice"
March: "The Good New Days"
April: "The Power of Metaphor"
May: "The Conflict of Mythologies"
June: "The Time is Right"
July: "The New Anarchy"
August: "The Art of Living"
September: "Outrage"
October: "Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?

November: "Effect of the manufacturing culture on the American Psyche"
December: Who are the Real Game Changers?

Archives 2010
Volumn 9

January: The Music of Place
February: Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
March: Sense of Place, Sense of Self, Sense of Humanity
April: Why Do People Serve?
May: Decentralizing Food and Energy
June: Beyond Reading and Writing — Ecological literacy
July: Organization or Organism?
August: Fear and Cynicism = “Inter-fear-ance”
September: Are we afraid of our "Better Angels?"
October: Choosing Our Battles
November: Meeting the Need
December: A Living Canvas

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