Terms Which I Question – Metaphors part 1

While words themselves can’t hurt us, we must be careful of the metaphors we use because they often have hidden implications. The danger here is that we may unconsciously be directed or limited by those implications.

What is so important about the metaphors we use and what makes them different from other pieces of language? Metaphors are interpreters of context, so often correlate with high level change. We write the stories of our lives through our use of concepts within the limitations of our contexts, so where better to look for change than in our metaphors?

The implications of some ‘popular’ metaphors are less than useful, so it’s worth examining them here:

  • work/life balance
    The implications here are many. Firstly that ‘work’ and ‘life’ need to be in equal balance, i.e. that work should be given as much time and energy as everything else put together. Secondly that work and life are the only two areas of focus to have a harmonious life. Thirdly, that work and life do not overlap and are exclusive concepts.

    If you think that last one is a stretch, let me tell you a story that underlines the point. A while ago, I was at a friend’s barbecue and was introduced to an acquaintance of his. He was struggling with his workload and was near burnout. Part way through the conversationI noticed that he was treating work and life like opposites, rather than overlapping concepts.

    So I asked him what the opposite of work was. “Life”. And then what the opposite of life was. At this point he went a little pale. He realised that throughout our conversation he had been telling me that he was only ‘living’ when he was not working! Understanding this, he was able to begin finding ways to see work in a more positive light.

  • Leadership of self
    The key implication here is that we have an ‘internal leader’ – and an internal ‘follower’ too. Leading and following is a two-role process, so ‘leadership of self’ indicates some sort of internal division or conflict, in my opinion. I’d use a different metaphor which implies internal integration and cooperation.

A better metaphor
My purpose here is not to create “word fear” or the sort of internal censorship that came with “political correctness”. I’d prefer you examine the implications of the metaphors you use in everyday life, especially in areas that you consider less than optimum. And through such consideration, choose to live through more empowering contexts and narratives.

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