Saturday, March 26, 2011

Metaphorical arguments

At Eight to Late, there's an interesting post on metaphors that show up in arguments. And, from the metaphors come the action verbs. Here are a few examples, in the form of metaphor category followed by action verb:

  • War: win, counter, defend, attack
  • Art: craft, perceive, express
  • Cooperation: contribute, share, complement, achieve
  • Journey: step-by-step, go and going
  • Quest: explore, look, examine

Of course, the word 'argument' often carries a bit of baggage.  Argument could be as benign as stating a propositon, as in debating: one makes the argument for a point of view.  But I don't think that was the context for the posting at Eight to Late. If war is the metaphor, then argument is about disagreement.

 Instead of argument, how about 'discussion'?  'Discussion' seems to lighten the load; discussion generally carries the context of extended conversation, perhaps even reinforcing and informative.  Certainly that's the case for the 'art' metaphor, perhaps even the journey.  And so perhaps we argue like warriors, but otherwise have discussions like diplomats.

And, what about 'negotiation'?  Maybe 'negotiation' is a part of cooperation.  Is getting to 'yes' a discussion, argument, or negotiation?  Does it matter? 

It matters in tone and it may matter in outcome.  My experience is that most things start well enough as discussions, may evolve to a negotiation if there is something to be decided, and degrade to argument [war] as failure in the original context, but perhaps as an extension in another.  After all, von Clausiwitz said ".... war is just the continuation of policy by other means."

Does von C's view mean argument is just discussion and negotiation by other means?  Perhaps.  But, I don't recall a successful negotiation achieved by war-like argument.  So, perhaps the metaphor breaks down, as most metaphors do.

The bottom line to this, if there is a bottom line, is be conscious of the action verbs.  You'll know when things are moving toward war.

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