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Charismatic Communication: Conceptual Entrapment - How Metaphor Governs Our Lives (Part 2)

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2006-09-05 21:32:53     
Article by Desmond Guilfoyle

Language can be an important way people reveal their conscious and unconscious models of the world. Listening for linguistic markers can allow you to build up a reasonably accurate picture of another person’s outlook and understanding of the world. They may not be conscious of how they are presenting their worldview, however it is a simple task to match linguistic markers with behaviour and then test for accuracy.

Metaphors that are deeply embedded in our culture are relatively easy to identify because of the number of linguistic markers associated with them. Try the following statement for size:

“He is mounting an attack (attack) on the fundamental rights we fought (previous battle) for decades to win.(triumph) And let me tell you those tactics (war plans) will not get us to give up (retreat) one inch of ground (territory). I mean, what a pathetic (insult) proposition. Let me throw down this challenge (duel). Let him go and muster his forces (army) and prove what he says about a legion (troops) of Australians demanding a showdown (battle) on this issue. I can tell you this, we will not yield (cede territory) to anyone who wants to destroy (kill) the rights of Australian workers to withdraw their labour. We will take to the streets (counter-attack) and there will be a river of blood (massive casualties) if he tries”

You can conclude that the metaphor used in the above statement is that of War. You may also have noticed that the speaker isn’t simply playing with words as in a surface metaphor. His argument is structured, performed, voiced, and understood in terms of war. Can you imagine him seeking to accommodate a range of views outside of the ones expressed? Can you see him responding in any way which doesn’t entail a fight, and a winner and loser?

War is the partial framework or template he uses to argue his point and agitate against deregulation of the labour market. It’s a partial framework, or template, because he is using the metaphoric concept ‘Argument Is War’ to structure how he argues and how he makes sense of what he’s doing as he’s doing it. If it were a complete framework he would be out in the streets with an AK47. It would be real war and the body count would be astronomical!

Sample any of the major social and political debates of today, identify the linguistic markers and you’ll more than likely uncover clear demonstrations of the Argument is War metaphor. This metaphor may well be the predominant structure we use for the debate of ideas and any exchange that goes beyond the boundaries of polite conversation in our culture.

It surfaces as a deeply embedded cultural metaphor beyond the consciousness of most people who participate in the dialogues of daily life. You may notice its presence wherever there is divergence of opinion: from domestic arguments to the highest matters of state.

Recall the last time you participated in a conversation that became heated and developed into an argument. Picture it if you can, remember the dialogue or the associated feelings. As you do, begin to notice the exact point of transformation from conversation to argument: the point where you felt your hackles rising, where emotions changed from cooperation to confrontation, where something triggered the fight or maybe flight response in you. What happened then? What seemed to be at stake? And how did you proceed? Review the following checklist and note when you complied:

you became adversaries
it became important to you, and/or your adversary, that they surrender their opinion and give victory to yours
diversity of opinions produced conflict
you began to plan a strategy on the run and marshal your intellectual forces by coming up with ideas or points you could introduce
you noticed the weaknesses, lack of logic etc. of the other persons position and you mounted an attack based on those weaknesses
you played with words, introduced red herrings, and tried to manoeuvre the argument to put you in a stronger position
you attempted to defend your position by responding to the arguments and questions raised by the other person
if your opponent came up with a ‘gob-stopper’ you retreated to safer ground and regrouped for a counter-attack
you both may have got bored, or tired, of the argument and agreed on a stalemate, or called a truce so you could bring in reinforcements at some other time.
you could, with a combination of the above, have achieved victory and won the day
you, or your opponent, may have realised that, by continuing, a greater loss could ensue, and surrendered
your argument, or theirs, could have been so supremely logical or forceful that only a fool wouldn’t have sued for peace

Now, here’s a question for you to ponder. What was it that seemed to draw you into behaving as you did during the argument?

Think about other arguments you’ve had, and notice how an invisible force appeared to hijack the process. And think about the times that you went too far or felt so guilty and embarrassed over your behaviour that you were compelled to offer an apology.

What came over you? Could it have been a little piece of brain software playing itself out without you being consciously aware of it? Could you have been hijacked by the Argument is War metaphor?

But, what about instances in which people deliberately apply the Argument is War metaphor to trigger behaviour you wouldn’t ordinarily exhibit in public? Could you withstand it?

A question on which to ponder. What if you found another equally powerful but infinitely less toxic conceptual metaphor in which to couch your argument? How about 'Argument is a Dance"? How would that influence how you structure and perform your argument?

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