Messing with metaphors!
by Terry Camsey, Major –
Once in a while, when I am working with a corps council, I’ll ask each member to think of a metaphor that describes the corps. The answers can be very illuminating.
For example, I might say, “If you were to describe the corps as an animal, what would that animal be, and why?” Someone may say, “A mouse—because we are so timid about outreach.” Another may say, “A sleeping lion—because we have such powerful potential if we would only wake up!” Yet another may say, “An ostrich—because despite all the opportunity around us, we will not take our heads out of the sand to see it.”
Or, I might ask them to describe themselves as a vehicle. One may say, “A Lexus—because our facilities are so luxurious.” Another may say, “An all-terrain vehicle—because we need to be prepared to go anywhere at any time to minister to people.” Yet another may say, “A tour bus—because we have so much fun when we are all together.”
Each of these metaphors can tell us much about the corps and how that can influence the way they function.
I may leave the category open and see such responses as: “I see the corps as a hospital, full of sick people.” Yet another may say, “We are like a lighthouse, with a light shining so bright that people in dire straights are attracted from miles around.” Someone may say, “We are like an understaffed department store…with lots of products to sell, but not enough salespeople.” One might say “preservation society” since we want to be sure nothing changes around here! Another might say, “museum,” because we are full of old relics!”
Can you see how this exercise can surface some interesting insights on how the corps is seen. It also surfaces differences in people’s perceptions that can benefit from further discussion that leads to understanding on what is happening and why.
Is the training college “a place of further education,” or a “boot-camp”? Or “both, as well as…?” Can you see how this kind of question can open up helpful understanding and meaningful dialog?
Do labels influence behavior? They certainly do. Tell some peoplee how great they look and they’ll walk on air all day. Tell them they look terrible and ask if they are sickening for something, and they’ll worry about it all day.
Stimulus and response—cause and effect…
It’s fascinating to look at some of the descriptions we use in the Army (I know, some readers will be thinking “Don’t mess with the Army metaphor!” but let me at least illustrate).
Isn’t it odd that we call a “division” a division, which not only can describe a geographic location, or sub-group of an organization, but also can mean separation, apartness, differences. Can the label result in vastly different interpretations?
How about “commander” a word that not only suggests “in charge” but also can be associated with control. Control can mean many things from guide, manage, to restrain, restrict, even bridle. Can that label result in vastly different interpretations?
And what of “director” and its association also with controlling and supervising as well as with setting direction? Can that label, too, result in vastly different interpretations?
What if a division was a “vineyard”…a commander an “empowerer”…a director a “facilitator?” Might that label change perception of the role and function?
It’s worth some exploration, don’t you think?