Each of us has a primary metaphoric image that gives life to and feeds our passions and gifts. These primary images usually come from childhood, and they’re often associated with that natural world.
My metaphoric image is of my father and grandfather planting in their farm fields. One of my students who grew up in Mexico holds the image of festive Mexican markets in her heart—colorful, festive, and filled with lively people. A friend of mine’s metaphoric image is her family’s “ramshackle” summerhouse that she liked so much better than their ‘respectable’ house in the city.
Organizations, institutions, families, social networks, and entire countries also have metaphoric images that provide guidance and a sense of meaning for their members. One could argue that the image that lies at the root of the United States is a melting pot. Others may argue that the US’s primary image is of a Revolutionary War soldier fighting for religious freedom and liberty.
When we’re connected to the metaphoric image that lies under the surface, we experience a sense of meaning. Our experiences aren’t random—they’re ‘connected’ to something. We have a way to make decisions. We feel a sense of purpose. Conflicts occur when other people hold different (conflicting) guiding images.
In our culture, metaphor is often viewed as either a slick tool of language that poets use, or something that’s “make believe.” “That’s just a metaphor,” we say. But if we really understood how powerful metaphoric is in guiding and informing our actions, we would value it in a much different way.