A Metaphor For Metaphor

This article was first posted on https://eajepsen.wordpress.com

My mind was preoccupied as I briskly cut to my classroom through the middle school cafeteria as 7th grade lunch was dismissing. Out of the corner of my eye, a quick movement caught my attention and I spun my head in the direction of the movement, which was now accompanied by squealing and yelling. At this point in the school year, my eyes and ears were trained to discern sounds abnormal from the regular din and activity that middle schoolers bring with them. My mind rapidly calculated that some sort of fight was breaking out and with lunch bag in tow, I sprinted to the huddle of students from where the noise was coming.

Surprised, I saw one of my female students—a generally quiet, conservative, and respectful girl—hitting another student who seemed to be cowering on the wall.

“Hey! Cut it out and get to class!” I yelled.

When the student doing the hitting disregarded my instruction, I was both annoyed and confused. This was not like her. I stepped closer, ready to intervene and much more loudly shouted,

“HEY! Get your hands off of her and get to class!”

This time, the student turned and looked at me, startled. She opened her mouth and began to attempt an explanation, which I abruptly cut off.

Once I saw that the fight was successfully dissipated, I hurried back to my class, where I now had students waiting. I was peeved, but honestly, stuff like this happened at my school all too frequently. I resumed my lesson and didn’t think much of it for the rest of the day.

With the final dismissal bell ringing at 3:30 p.m., I found myself sitting at my desk, exhaustion kicking in as my mind continued to reel with the many things that I still needed to accomplish before tomorrow. I snapped out of my tired stupor and began muddling my way through the eighty-something papers that I needed to grade before I left school.

My classroom door creaked open and I heard a soft voice.

“Hey, Ms. Jepsen!”

I looked up and saw Ciara, who frequently stopped by my classroom around this time to simultaneously pace around my room while playing on her tablet and chatter about her day. Generally, the topics of conversation ranged somewhere from what happened in math class, to how her younger sister annoyed her, to the list of boys she adamantly claimed she did NOT like.

Without fully entering my classroom, she hung close to the door and continued,

“I got yelled at by a teacher today!” I looked up again.

“What? You got yelled at? No, you didn’t.” Smiling, she nodded.

Curious, I prodded, “Who yelled at you?”

Ciara laughed, “You did! In the cafeteria!”

Understanding quickly dawned on me and I remembered the small debacle at lunch time.

“Oh yeah.” I had meant to follow up with her.

“What was that all about? You completely ignored me and none of that is like you at all.”

Ciara now stepped in the room and explained that the girl who she was playfully hitting was her friend, who had jokingly stolen something of hers. I came on the scene when Ciara had apparently figured out what had happened and was “getting her back.”

It made sense now. In retrospect, I pondered the situation and it made sense why nobody involved in this little altercation had been overly upset and why the girl being hit casually walked off when I broke it up.

From my vantage point, the now laughable lunch time incident, appeared to be a fight. From Ciara’s, it was nothing more than the delivering of a good-natured retribution. Because of our differing perspectives and involvement, the same incident appeared to be two completely different things. Not surprisingly, this is a common “phenomenon,” if you want to call it that. Look at the extremely disparate political, racial, and economic ideas and theories held by American citizens.

I know, this isn’t radical or new. I think most people have this very basic understanding of perspective:  it changes based on where we are standing, sitting, crouching. It changes based on who we are with or whether we are with someone at all. It changes based on our prior experience.

Now apply this concept of perspective to metaphors. The metaphors we choose to define our experiences and views are shaped by our personal piece of reality: our lives. Your reality is different than mine, because we are not same. Profound. Not really, but somehow at the age of 24, I am just now beginning to more completely understand how experience influences what we perceive.

I wished someone would have interrupted me and explained this to me when I was arrogantly spewing something about another something I knew nothing about. Or when I was applying my limited experience and knowledge to a situation so foreign to my own, that I shouldn’t and couldn’t possibly use my vocabulary to adequately define or explain. But that’s the whole point—not just the error of youth—but that our experiences or lack thereof, determine how we innately define the world around us.

Let me use this metaphor about metaphor to talk about metaphor. Now, we’re really getting “meta” as some liberal arts college major (like me) would say. Metaphor is lens shaped by perspective. A lens created not by fragmentations of plastic or glass, but by our experiences.

When we think about metaphor this way, we might understand why two students asked the same question of “What metaphor would you use to describe school?” could respond with such opposing answers as “prison” and “adventure.” One has a negative connotation and one has exciting, if not positive connotation.

Metaphors are an attempt to gain understanding by framing the unfamiliar in familiar terms. In this way, metaphors are tidy, because each new thing is then assigned to an attribute or object of something that is already understood. It’s convenient, which also means it is something to be wary of doing glibly.