Some Of My Favorites

Human thinking depends on metaphor. We understand new and complex things in relation to what we already know. Jonathan Haidt

I am a big fan of metaphor and have written many blogs about metaphor. Somehow I have this urge to highlight some of my favorite metaphors one by one in a series of blogs. Some metaphors will be popular, others are not well known. This blog is  Metaphor Memory #1.

#1: Humankind traveling through life is like the fly riding on the back of an elephant who thinks it is steering. The elephant doesn’t mind, and it makes the ride more enjoyable. (Unknown)

This is one of my favorites of all time; Jonathan Haidtgot me in touch with it. (One of my most popular blogs is a different Jonathan Haidt elephant metaphor: The Rider And The Elephant, 9 – 28 – 15). My #1 Memory Metaphor speaks to my emphasis of paying attention to the way we see things. Because the way we see things is the way we do things, it is important to our well-being. But the way we see things isn’t always the way things are.

The image of thinking we are steering our way through life says something about the way we see things. Belief in free will and personal control is part of being human. I will act as if what I do makes a difference, William James. We often see things the way we want to see things. And we want to be in control. We have to think that what we do makes a difference; but we need to know that what we do may not. We are the captain of our ship; but the ship doesn’t always obey.

The Buddha compared the mind to a wild elephant, hard to control. The metaphor of riding on an elephant helps us think about control. If you can think that what you are steering is your “wild elephant mind”, it might be helpful. The human mind (the wild elephant) is a powerful asset. I have suggested (in previous blogs) that you consider your mind as a magical, malleable dream factory, a multi-faceted, personal resource. It has been referred to as a smart computer, a good magician, a library, an adaptive toolbox, an enchanted loom, among other metaphors.

You, the rider, can collaborate with the wild elephant, jointly making things happen — if you put your metaphorical mind to it. You will enjoy the ride.

Why is metaphor so effective?

It is easier to think about something when thinking about something else, than it is to think about a thing when trying to think about it.   Erasmus G. Addlepate

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  1. Eugene Unger says:

    I’m picturing us riding two elephants to breakfast next week. Toyota and Buick , faithful steeds that just eat weeds, ancient ones only! Oil text you next week.



  2. Marianne Fontana says:

    I always liked that metaphor. I think it is a fun idea for you to revisit your metaphors over time. Probably we will all find new meanings to them. A thought I had about this one—-you say the fly thinks it is steering its way through life when in actuality, the elephant is. I would bet that people who think God makes all things happen in our lives, would say it is a perfect example that we think we are steering but in actuality, God is. Now I happen to believe God, like the elephant gives us a bit of comfort and rest while we chart our own course. So I can just sit here and hope God takes me where I want to go, or I can enjoy the support all the while planning my own course. One could get a bit carried away with this one. I might, as the fly, decide to get some nourishment from the dung on the ground. I then might get crushed by a passing elephant, so maybe I should stay on top of the elephant and not take any chances. I think this could go on and on. Kind of fun, actually.

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