George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, in there book “Metaphors We Live By” talk about the way our perceptions are locked into the metaphors we construct out of our experience. These metaphors are widely shared, such as “love is crazy” and “up is good.” They talk about groups where these metaphors are widely shared and it got me thinking about how people constantly feel they don’t fit in–whether for many reasons or one thing that eats at their sense of belonging.
I think the orientational metaphors Lakoff and Johnson discuss are more diverse within groups than the authors conclude. They write: “In some cases spatialization is so essential a part of a concept that it is difficult to imagine any alternative metaphor that might structure the concept. In our society, ‘high status’ is such a concept….”
In fact, there are many versions of orientational metaphors within any group, each derived from personal perception. Why, for example, are some people who are otherwise competent and confident, “afraid of success?” Perhaps because they don’t see the future as above and in front of them today, a ladder or staircase to heaven. If they are depressed or were taught to “keep your feet planted firmly on the ground and your eyes right on the ground in front of you,” the future may seem to hang over their heads like a sword or the “heights” may feel precipitous.
So, when we wonder why we can’t get a group to coalesce around an idea and take action, maybe it is because the metaphors the leader uses are not natural to some of the group. Is there a simple test, such as the question “Where is the future?” that we can use to begin to understand our peers?