Moments of Impact: Metaphors in Language

Moments of Impact: Metaphors in Language

Moments of Impact

In our last moment of impact, we discussed “modals,” words that express potential worlds beyond our own. These words beg us to look beyond what is known and fall into a divine dreaming. At least once or twice a day, we should let the shoulds, coulds, and mights hypnotize, empower, and enlighten us.

As much as language is a tool for us to crack things open, it sets limits. Language is, if anything, a compromise. There’s a reason why you understand everything I’m saying: we have all agreed that these words refer to the same thing. You don’t have to fight it, and you shouldn’t; please don’t try to make red into blue, bananas into apples, or your aunt into your dog. There are objects in our world that language needs to capture; otherwise, why would we bother?

Yet there are subtle and insidious linguistic agreements we make that don’t express simply objective truths, but cultural truths. These truths are not necessary to the truths of language. They are ingrained metaphors in our culture that are expressed in language. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson refer to these as “the metaphors we live by.”

In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson mention one such metaphor in American culture:

It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle…It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture.1

I was reminded of this when I was out drinking with a friend the other day. We argued quite a bit about a little bit of everything: sports, writing, reading, relationships, gossip, and more. When he apologized for bickering and appeared genuinely ashamed, it was then I realized that for as much hype as competition gets in America, we still view it as a bad thing. It’s a thing to be avoided. It causes discomfort and hostility. It will always position one person against the other.

Why?

Argument is war.

I don’t think we need more arguments. Especially the kind we see on CNN or worse, Twitter and other social media platforms. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with setting conflicts in battle grounds. Lakoff and Johnson mention the fact that other languages use verbs like “grasping” or “meeting” instead of “winning” or “destroying” when they refer to arguments (an instance of metaphor variation). The word “argue” a couple of centuries ago used to mean something closer to “make clear” (arg meaning shine, clear, brighten).2

One should tread caution with the metaphors we live by. They define and contain. But once we see them, we can re-frame and liberate ourselves from oppressive cultural yoke in search of clarity and higher moral ground.

Footnotes

1. Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, Ill.: U of Chicago, 2011. Print.
2. Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: “What If” Instead of “What Is”

Moments of Impact

There are “dream words” in the English language. While words like “are” and “is” presents facts, we also have words called “modals” that comment on how reality should, could, or might be. Maybe we concern ourselves too much with what “is” because our immediate truths are our way of reconciling and surviving in what’s always so coldly presented as the “real world.” Our culture, American culture, is so competitive that to look at anything else other than the other rat racing right ahead of you seems nonsensical, if not deadly. The shoulds, mights, and coulds of life get lost. Daydreaming becomes useless. They have no use because they just don’t “get you anywhere.”

But isn’t daydreaming, thinking of how things could be different, what might or should be true, what makes us human? Daydreaming is said to involve the prefontal cortex, one of the last but differentiating parts of our mind to develop in our evolutionary history. If we look past empiricism for a moment and take a tour of Plato’s idealism, which proposes that humans are ever aware of a perfection that doesn’t exist in the real world, we find that we were almost born to be dreamers. I mean, if we’re made of the stuff of stars (which is pretty darn magical), wouldn’t it make sense that we would look towards them now and again?

I’m thinking I might launch a daydream once a day using one of our modals. Instead of thinking about the jobs, the tasks, the interviews I have to go to, the worries about how things are, maybe I’ll ask myself: “What could happen if someone spontaneously burst into song? What might this kind of character do on the bus I’m riding right now?” Just as daydreaming is said to heighten innovative parts of our mind, it may help me create new paths off the track we’re all running in. The stuff of stars is real; the light it gives off is divine.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Exile at the Last Supper

Moments of Impact

I recently made a reference to the Last Supper in Bad News, Judas. This poem was inspired by a recent visit from social rejection and its accompanying feelings of shame and inadequacy.

I began a kitchen job and to say that I am like a storm is an understatement. My mind wanders off to the semantics of possession in English while I’m supposed to be timing when to flip patties and grilling bacon. As I carry items to and fro from the walk in freezer, I feel trapped in a fiery head-cage, unable to be in the moment, to think about pickles, marinated onions, and if we need pizza sauce or not. “Sorry”s and “Oh God”s are uttered from my mouth and numerous eyes are rolled as I spill blue cheese crumbles and burn toast. I wish I could tell them that it isn’t that I feel superior to the work. I feel inferior to this work, a prisoner of my own mind that can’t seem to budge and learn what other people feel is the most basic work you can do. My weaknesses have resulted in minor social exile.

Like many others, I have talents that are very pronounced and weaknesses that are equally apparent. This hasn’t made rejection for me any easier or any less painful: when I sat down at our most recent employee meeting it felt like sitting down at the Last Supper. Jesus, our store manager, was at the forefront and I sat at the very end, the Judas brewing in the corner. None of my other coworkers looked nor spoke directly to me. Who could blame them? If I couldn’t be a cook, I was useless in their eyes. And without any use, who are you to a group of people, anyways?

Exile. Rejection. Group isolation. I thought of this on an even grander scale, in cases of exiled individuals throughout our history who have suffered through rejection and social exile. Judas was exiled from the apostles in his defiance of Jesus, though many say that Judas was simply criticizing Jesus’s increasingly entitled attitude, thinking that an arrest by the Romans would make Jesus a better rabbi. One might even say Judas was simply a critical person who dissented from a group mentality and took it one step too far.

Then, of course, we have the artists. , in his article Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity?, chimes:

Aldous Huxley wrote, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely,” and upon thinking about it even a little, it quickly becomes apparent that many of history’s creative geniuses have been deeply lonely people. There is the obvious reason for this: dedicating oneself to an artistic pursuit means one has little time for social endeavors. This is what has frustrated flamboyant, gregarious writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James, both of whom wrote about the dreadful isolation necessary to turn out great fiction. But whether it’s the mysteriously secretive writing careers of J.D. Salinger or Donna Tartt, the well-known loneliness of Joseph Conrad (“we live as we dream — alone”) or the friendship-loneliness conundrum of van Gogh, it becomes apparent that something else is at play. Loneliness is not just sufficient for creativity; it is necessary. It is almost as if one can only be truly creative when one detaches from society.

Maybe it’s unfair to aggrandize myself in this way, clinging to a sense of belonging to some niche. I can’t attune to the needs of whatever “collective” I belong to, whether this is because I’m simply different or maybe zero utility, a nice knick knack of society. As I flip patties, burn toast, drop Parmesan, and serve patrons their food, I keep mental tabs on the things that inspire me and make me dream. I’ve thought once that holding on to this would land me in a community of creative people, but maybe I will be lonely just as Huxley suggests. Maybe my defiance will earn me cynical glares for as long as I live. But no matter where I stand, in company or alone, I’ll stand true.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: What is Human Potential?

Moments of Impact

Human potential. Karl Marx wrote about how society holds us back, that “free laborers” are slaves in disguise, summed up gleefully by the Verve’s lyrics: “Trying to make ends meet/You’re a slave to your money then you die.” So often, it feels like Marx was kind of right: we’re trying to run past what society demands of us so we can just have a moment to fall deeper into ourselves. To process. To make. To develop. Whether you’re the starving artist trope or a busy individual trying to develop a new scientific theory, we’re all fighting to get to spend time with our human potential, our estranged pet in the modern day (unless you’re denying it, then that’s a whole other story).

Of course, there’s this eerie “unleash the beast” aspect to discussions of human potential that is as idiotic as it is frightening. I can’t stand the level of preoccupation, narcissism, and destruction our so-called “self improvement” culture has produced,  encouraging us to shed the yoke of shame to better ourselves at the risk of hitting others, especially in certain circles and organizations. Maybe we should come back to Fight Club to consider our obsession with the “self” especially now that we have a president who Tweets things like this:

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But seriously, there’s a lot to be said for it unless you lack any self awareness and suffer from a severe psychological disorder (ahem). Its roots stretch even beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and into Nietzschean philosophy, which focuses on autonomy, freedom from feelings of shame and guilt, and the necessity of developing one’s talents. And nowadays, I really don’t know anyone personally who doesn’t have at least one hobby, or a skill that they take pride in, that they identify themselves with. Given that our talents are probably one of the things that are (almost)  guaranteed  to last your entire lifetime as friends come and go, people are born and others die, economies and political systems change, bombs go off, they should really be our most prized possession.

After fully understanding its importance in this way, I’ve been wondering more and more how to make time for my human potential and I to get better acquainted, to figure our the “stuff” it’s made of. How do I approach my potential in order to make the most of it? When I write, for instance, should I be challenging myself more, treating it like a beast to be pinned down? What thought patterns and habits need to be destroyed so I can get the upper hand? Or should I approach it like I’m walking into a garden, gently trimming leaves and pulling the weeds of procrastination and anxiety?

I know that I used to think of my time spent with myself as a vast sea of white: blinding, terrifying, and impossible. I used to turn away often, grab for my phone or forget it all together. Now, if I have the chance, after or before work, I sit. For hours, with a part of myself so strange and unknown, but exciting nonetheless. I may have to sprint to get there, scramble up my wages and just hope that everything’s okay, but it’s worth it to meet this enticing “beast.”

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“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Discovering a Cell

Moments of Impact: Discovering a Cell

Moments of Impact, Uncategorized

My moment of impact this week occurred after watching The Truman Show for the second time in at least a decade. This moment occurred as Jim Carrey delivers his Oscar-worthy performance as Truman Burbank having a nervous breakdown while he hunts for truth in a fictitious world. The rolling waves and thundering night sky are a part of a television set that Truman doesn’t know he was raised on.

The movie illustrates the dystopian elements of the utopian promises of the 50’s middle class lifestyle: stability, peace, innocence, and perfection. Truman grows up surrounded by professional actors playing their parts, who smile and wave at him behind white picket fences, including his best friend and his wife. Everyone thinks he’s fooled, but Truman senses a facade, though the artificial experiences have already made their real impact. He can’t tell if the prison cell is in himself or outside, a conspiracy against him created by the people on the island, or by his own fear.

So many existential questions raised, especially for my post-university adult life. Where is the boundary of my cell? What are my inner and external obstacles? My greatest personal weakness is my belief that the world conspires against me, that I live in a cruel and sadistic labyrinth of people who lie, deceive, exploit, and use me for a means to an end. Maybe I was freer in the confines of the university, where the world revolved around me, my needs, and my growth. But the academic world seems eerily close to Truman’s, a completely controlled environment, idealistic, stable, and kind. The producer of the television assures him there are just as many lies in the real world, and he is probably right.

So, when nothing seems to match up, how do we find truth?

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Truman sets off to sail the tumultuous sea to the ends of the earth, so he thinks, braving his crippling fears of the water to escape Seahaven. His boat pokes through the set, painted to look like an infinite sea, and finds the exit to the rest of the world. If only one day I could discover a wall within myself to break through to another reality, one where life wasn’t a labyrinth but an open field. It is almost too bad that our walls can’t be physical entities. What other game could our mind play to try and deceive us?

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.