Global Change Seminar
"It's Your Move!"
Introduction to Seminar Segment #5
The Role of Humanity: The impact of Metaphor
Before beginning with this Segment of the Seminar, take a moment to do the Word Salad exercise (click).
It is hard for us to realize how myopic and limited human perception is. We make snap judgments about pretty much everything, and pigeonhole ideas without fully exploring them. We quickly forget old challenges, and take our current situation for granted. Laure Garrett reminds us that "our grandparents grew up in an era when infectious diseases were a frightening reality; when to survive infancy was an accomplishment; when giving birth in and of itself was an invitation to death. At times it seems we have forgotten all of this. We live in comfortable ignorance about the health and well-being of people in faraway places, but in truth we are never very far away from the experience of our forbears."
One of the most difficult things for us to do is to suspend judgment. In their book Presence, Peter Senge and his co-authors teach us that "Suspension requires patience [and, we would add, practice,] and a willingness not to impose pre-established frameworks or mental models on what we are seeing. If we can simply observe without forming conclusions as to what our observations mean and allow ourselves to sit with all the seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of information we see, fresh ways to understand a situation can eventually emerge."
As humans we make up the meaning of what we perceive - and we miss a lot. We think our understanding is great but, in truth, perhaps the only great thing about it is that we at least have a concept called understanding!
Does our urge to address global problems arise simply out of an instinctive drive to preserve our species -- and perhaps others with which we are familiar? Or is it that with the development of conscious awareness in our species, we've arrived at a new milestone in the evolution of life; a milestone in which life - through humanity - must now consciously participate in its own evolution?
Consider the following:
- We perceive things only in relation to our own life span and our own size scale. We seem unable to accept that our lifetime is less than a blink of the eye for life on Earth.
- The fragility of our grip on life is completely lost on us. We forget (if we ever knew) just how precise are the conditions necessary to support life as we know it, and how remarkable it is that it occurred on our planet. The chances of such conditions occurring again or on another planet are so infinitesimally small that we simply can't grasp how unique the Earth is.
- Our typical way of thinking fools us. We see parts of nature and are blind to the whole. We fail to notice that everything is connected to everything else. When we eventually grasp the wholeness of natural and human systems it is literally mind blowing. This awareness is lost to us when we embrace the machine view of the world, and accept that systems and nature are made up of replaceable parts.
- Our awareness presents itself as immediate and complete. But there is always
much more than we see. On our dinner plate is a particular cow, many farm workers, a pottery, a
field, soil, rain, a truck, and a market. With thought we can begin to notice the amount
of work and relationships that have culminated in our awareness of our dinner. Yet
out of that symphony network, we usually hear only one or two notes.
- We think that our Western way of living is normal when, if you think about it, some of it is quite absurd. To quote Jim Sledd, "The world is 95% ludicrous and 5% sublime. Your job is to figure out which is which. When in doubt, stick with ludicrous."
- We have great difficulty comprehending (as science seems to have proven) that time is just another dimension of space. We can't wrap our minds round such a concept.
- We can't conceive of the changes that will happen in the future: imagine trying to explain the way you live to your great-grandmother. Think of all the words you'd need to use and artifacts you'd have to describe. So much of what you said would be meaningless to her. (radio, cell phone, television, washer and drier, velcro, airport, automobile, Saran Wrap, nuclear bomb, computer, internet, amazon.com, Game Boy, etc. )
- About 30 years ago some of the best future thinkers of the time made a set of predictions -- yet less than 50% turned out to be correct. We can't begin to conceive of what life will look like a hundred years from now, let alone a thousand, or a million.
- The amount of human impact on our planet is so much more vast than the length of time of our inhabitation. We take it for granted that we're at the pinnacle of evolution of life on Earth--but the chances are that life on Earth will continue in forms that we are unable to imagine long after our species is extinct or has evolved into something else, regardless of the damage it does during its occupation.
Since the earliest times, our great philosophers have wrestled with the limits of the human thinking process. Using science, mathematics, and philosophy individuals have worked to stretch and exercise the cognitive ability of our species and we are the beneficiaries of their efforts.
To help understand further how we think, this Segment now focuses on our unconscious use of metaphor, and how we can consciously use metaphor to help other people. Thinking in metaphors leads us to make theories about how things are and what they mean. Scientists know that fruitful metaphors can generate useful and relevant hypotheses. In our day-to-day living, we choose metaphors based on our underlying values and prior life experience. This segment is intended to help you understand the way underlying values can be discovered by observing metaphor in writing and conversation. With this understanding perhaps you will be better equipped to use metaphors to discover new insights and to communicate your own underlying values to other people in a way that they can hear. Remember the adage: "Without hearing, comes debate. But with hearing, comes dialogue." When a person gets sucked into debate s/he becomes too busy formulating his/her response to actually listen to the other person.
Consider the following two alternate closing statements for this Segment. Which one moves you the most to read what follows in the rest of this Segment?
To aid participants in the Global Change Seminar we've studied the use of metaphor in thinking and communication as found in a variety of different sources and then described the salient points in the following two Segment articles
To assist our Seminar students in understanding the impact of metaphor, we have rowed forth on the great river of our readings and life experience, lowered our little net as far down as our pole could reach, and then attempted to make a delectable dish of the relevant specimens we hoisted up with as much culinary skill as our imagination allowed.
There are two sections to complete before proceeding to the Segment #5 homework:
- Metaphorical Thinking
- Therapeutic Metaphor (Story-telling)
Next: Metaphorical Thinking