Monday, March 21, 2016

Metaphors to Demonstrate Understanding

Metaphors and similes are powerful tools. They're like drawing a diagram to illustrate your understanding of a concept, but using words instead of visuals. The two previous sentences were a metaphor and a simile, respectively.

I find myself using them a lot. Note that in the rest of this article I'll be talking a lot about metaphors, but assume in each case I'm referring to similes as well.

I'm a listener. I don't talk very much, especially in large groups. Instead, I absorb conversations, focusing on understanding the ideas everyone else is trying to convey.

Understanding things is important to me. I like to put effort into understanding things on a fundamental level, whether it's the underlying cause of a mindset or the core concept behind a mathematical formula. I believe it's this focus on understanding that allowed me to breeze through grade school: I wasn't content with facts and figures, I wanted to know why. Before college, history classes had always been exercises in memorization of facts, with very little exploration of the motivations or causes of historical events. As such, I had no interest in the subject until college, when suddenly motivations and root causes were the focus of the research.

That desire to understand manifests in conversation as well. As I listen to people talk, occasionally I feel the need to demonstrate my understanding of what they're saying by using a metaphor that we (hopefully) both understand.

For instance, I don't know much about sports. I mean, I know the rules of the games, more or less, but I don't have much knowledge of teams, star players, or how the business is run. Recently I participated in a conversation about the Phoenix Suns; specifically, about how they're having trouble giving away tickets to their games. A friend suggested that they're "playing for a draft position," meaning they're intentionally shooting for a really bad season so that they get an earlier pick during the next draft. I related the situation to Mario Kart and how a player might fall further back get better items.

In that case, the metaphor was apparently spot-on. However, bringing metaphors into the conversation helps even when the metaphor does not apply. At that point, the conversation usually tangents into one attempting to find the correct metaphor to match the concept. In a group, this discussion can be pretty lively, as different people attempt to come up with more and more appropriate metaphors.

I appreciate these tangents, especially in a conversation about a topic I'm not terribly engaged in. Though I may struggle with many topics, word play is always an engaging topic of conversation. Plus, metaphors not only help me to demonstrate my understanding of a concept, but they help me to understand a concept when other people use them as well. A conversation about them basically guarantees that I'll walk away from a conversation with a greater understanding of the subject than when I went in.

Not that people need to be reminded to use metaphors in conversation or anything. People use them all the time. However, similes and metaphors are rarely appreciated by name. So, thanks metaphors and similes. You help me understand things.

1 comment:

  1. I can identify with so much of this. I think that's why I was drawn to Philosophy, like a introspective moth to an abstruse flame. I don't know how much exposure you've had to it as a discipline, but I think you'd like it.

    Your Mario Kart example made me think of how much I relate things to my Magic: the Gathering experience, as well. When you're immersed in that competitive culture, it's hard not to see through that lens. D&D was pretty similar for us, as I recall. Still is.