Posted by: terrapraeta | February 2, 2010

From the Archives: A New Set of Metaphors

I choose to live and to
Grow, take and give and to
Move, learn and love and to
Cry, kill and die and to
Be paranoid and to
Lie, hate and fear and to
Do what it takes to move through.

I choose to live and to
Lie, kill and give and to
Die, learn and love and to
Do what it takes to step through.

See my shadow changing,
Stretching up and over me.
Soften this old armor.
Hoping I can clear the way
By stepping through my shadow,
Coming out the other side.
Step into the shadow.
Forty six and two are just ahead of me.

Tool, Forty Six and Two

If we want to redefine the metaphors that shape our world, we need to go back to basics. How do the current metaphors ‘fall short’ and why?

Lakoff explores the Moral Pathologies of both Liberal and Conservative thought. What he does not say directly – although I feel he implies it fairly effectively – is that both the Strict Father and the Nurturing Parent are both only a part of actual healthy family relationships. Discipline and Nurturing are both important parts of childhood development. By defining boundaries, we keep our children safe. With love and support, we help them feel more secure and we give them the confidence to explore the edges of those boundaries. In fact, a healthy child will often reside right at the leading edge of those boundaries, gradually moving the boundary outward until they become a self confident, imaginative adult.

Of course, we are discussing a dichotomy again, and that does not reflect the real world. In the real world we find as many shades of gray as there are people to explore them. In a real family, we live in those shades of gray. This is the ultimate point where the metaphors fail. You could even say that Lakoff’s Deviational Pathology is defined by politicians trying to apply pure black or white to a technicolor world.

Now, I have never been much of an artist, so I’m going to do a little Paint-By-Numbers here – maybe toy a bit with the color selection. But remember, the spectrum is vast… and others out there may want to start with a blank canvas and full palette rather than simply accepting my 256K scheme.

So let’s start with morality. As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t much care for the Accounting metaphor. So first we will dispense with that, and the entire concept of zero-sum morality. I also wish to discard Lakoff’s experiential morality. Sounds absurd, but you know, I think our subconscious acceptance of the zero sum also taints our other perceptions and metaphors. So I’m going to white out this particular shade of gray and color it vibrant green: Well Being = Self Fulfillment.

What the hell does that mean?

A friend of mine recently raised a discussion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you don’t follow psychology, it doesn’t really matter… basically, Maslow said that as individuals, we start by focusing on our physical needs(Body Needs), when that’s covered, we look to Safety (Security Needs), next is relationships (Social Needs), then Self Respect and Respect of Others (Ego Needs) and then finally, if we succeed at acquiring all of these, we are then able to turn to Self Actualization. Now, the question Howard posed was this… is it appropriate for us to spend our lives chasing these basic needs in hopes that one day we will be able to achieve self actualization? What if the pursuit of Self-Actualization itself, provides all of the others?

Or to use a different turn of phrase… if we do what we are best at everything else will follow.

Sounds too easy, but bear with me. Lakoff notes:

“…you are better off if you are healthy rather than sick, rich rather than poor, strong rather than uncared for, happy rather than sad, disgusted or in pain, whole rather than lacking, clean rather than filthy, beautiful rather than ugly, if you are experiencing beauty rather than ugliness, if you are functioning in the light rather than the dark, and if you can stand upright so that you don’t fall down.”

But are all of these things actually case? I would say no… and in fact Lakoff qualifies with ‘All other things being equal’. But I would suggest that all other things are NEVER equal. So its sort of silly to pretend that they are.

So… do what you’re best at… if what you DO and what you HAVE and what you WANT and what you NEED all resonate, or to keep with our color metaphor, if the colors enhance each other… this is self-fulfillment. This is Well Being. What’s more, when this is the case, you will usually find that the more basic needs ALWAYS follow. No, not because that is some reached for ideal, but rather as a function of necessity.

When you do something that matters to you – that brings you joy – you will always feel self respect. Self Respect is usually paired with the respect of others. (“You can’t respect someone if he doesn’t respect himself”, F. Bueller)

When you do something that matters to you, you also work harder and with more care and precision – because you OWN it. If your joy is inspired by writing software, your code will be superior in every way to the code of someone that ‘don’t give a shit…’ If the product is superior, this should, and usually does, translate into greater material success. (Particularly if you partner with someone that has a passion for salesmanship!)

When you do something that brings you joy… you radiate joy as well. Other people respond to this joy. They want to be around people that bring joy into their lives, even if only vicariously. If they experience your joy vicariously, that may even inspire them to explore there own. In any case, a joyful person will have access to as much social interaction as they choose to pursue.

If you find yourself Materially successful, Socially successful, Self Respecting and Respected… Security ceases to be an issue. Or you could say that you have security. Its the same either way.

So why Green? Self Fulfillment can be metaphorically linked with a healthy ecological system. Each part sustaining and supporting the other,in an intricate web that is much stronger than any linear structure.



  1. If you are struggling 18 hours a day to ensure that you are alive tomorrow it would be difficult, to say the least, to discover those things that bring you joy.

    Maslow seems to be arguing that you can’t be your (for lack of a better phrase) ‘true self’ unless the baser needs are met. I think this is probably true for the bottom 2 rungs of Maslow. Beyond that I think the heirarchy contains confusion between cause and effect. Does confidence lead to esteem which leads to actualization or does confidence lead to actualization which leads to esteem?

    (“You can’t respect someone if he doesn’t respect himself”, F. Bueller)

    This does not imply that self-respect leads to the respect of others. Maslow’s self-actualized man is unconcerned with whether others respect him. (This is one of the flaws with Maslow, the self-actualization that Maslow sees as the top of the heirarchy actually disregards the heirarchy completely)

    A final complaint about Maslow: Maslow seems to have defined the ‘ideal man’ and then developed a model that leads all of us to that ideal. The ideal man, per Maslow, is an autonomous, intellectual stoic, comfortable with his own imperfections. This may be an ideal person, but I wouldn’t want to say that it is THE ideal person.

    Also, it seems to me that you are conflating Maslow’s “Self-Actualization” with “Self Fulfillment”. I’m not sure that I find that substitution appropriate.


  2. Hey Jim —

    As noted… I wrote these articles a long time ago… this one shortly after first hearing of Maslow from Howard… however, I did address this whole issue in greater detail a year and some later First, in Maslow’s Hierarchy and then followed by Maslow’s Network.

    Before commenting further, I’ll see what you think of the complete “argument” 😉


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