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Hard to believe? For sure--Until we think about it.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson have done just that in their Metaphors We Live By. They give us the following examples from everyday American metaphors, rearranged opposite non-metaphoric language:

Metaphoric Non-Metaphoric
You disagree, shoot! May we hear your idea?
If you use that strategy, he'll wipe you out. That strategy will not work.
I demolished his argument. My logic negated his argument.
He shot down all my ideas. The logic behind my idea was not sufficient.
Your claims are indefensible. Your claims are incorrect.
I have never won an argument with him. His arguments have always been right.
He attacked every weak point in my argument. He found all the weak points in my argument.

So what do these comparisons mean?

First of all, arguments couched in metaphors are more colorful and vibrant. Their matter-of-fact counterparts are dull by comparison. Metaphors are simply more exciting. They hold one's attention better. They are comfortable intuitively.

Nevertheless, these metaphors are violent, warlike. For example, we quote from Metaphors We Live By: "The only permissible tactics in... RATIONAL ARGUMENT are supposedly the stating of premises, the citing of supporting evidence, and the drawing of rational conclusions. But even in the most ideal cases, where all these conditions hold, RATIONAL ARGUMENT is still comprehended and carried out in terms of war. There is still a position to be established and defended, you win or lose, you have an opponent whose position you attack and try to destroy and whose every argument you try to shoot down. If you are completely successful, you wipe him out."

In other words, like the common hang-up, for most of us, violence is equivalent. Most of us are not even aware that how we cache our words reflects our real personalities. In this war on terror, the us vs them attitude comes all too naturally. So natural is it that we cannot, or at least do not as a body politic, look for our own contribution to bringing about conditions that humiliate other societies. To use yet another metaphor, until we can look in the mirror and see ourselves as a society as others see us, we will not nip off the roots of terrorism. That may well take a sea change lasting a generation or more just to change course.

And that says a lot about Americans. We are more fascinated by violence than by prosaic disagreement. In part at least, Americans structure their arguments in terms of war, winner take all. Maybe that is why we have so little dialogue among our politicians, and between them and the people they represent.

All this not only squares with our Authoritarian Personalities , but explains in large part why so many of us intuitively reject the fact that an AP can have his/her bad side: Violence is exciting! "Now get off my back with all your tripe about peace. Who wants to live in a dull, dull world?"

We don't either. But as a matter of survival, would it not be better to follow the Olympic tradition for excitement? Is there not genuine excitement in competition, where both winner and loser can hold his/her head high in accomplishment. The old bromide that: "It is not the game, but how you play it that counts." That can be taken in several ways, but the intent is usually twofold. 1) For both sides, sportsmanship comes ahead of winning or losing; each side can hold their heads high. 2) For the spectators, it is similar; there is much to admire in the execution of both contenders, much to admire and take pleasure in sportsmanship. Who cannot admire the underdog who saves the day with a last second goal or who sprints the last ten yards of a marathon to win by a nose, to use another metaphor.

Finally, can we not take pride in our own sportsmanship in behaving similarly? On the soccer field we forgo injuring an opponent when the referee is not looking. Watching, we forgo that riot to reinforce the victory of our team or defend our loser's honor?

Just as all this adds to the minefields on the road to peace, it adds clues about that road ahead. For two millennia, we have been sublimating our aggression into sports. In doing so, we learn to frame our ideas in words such that fierce debate dissolves into dialogue. See George Lakoff for more on that.

So it is on the world scene. We are partly there. Jesse Owens gave us pride in 1936, long before racial barriers fell. And what about Dara Torres? At age 41, she's the oldest Olympic swimming medalist in history. She's also the only swimmer to win a medal in five Olympics. Similar heroes abound from all cultures. Like religion in history, sports have not relegated war to the dust bin.

Lakoff and Johnson provide yet one more piece of evidence why that we can live more peacefully than we do. It is in our genes, mindset, and language. How we speak reflects how we feel more than anything else. Surely, our language was born of fear of our environment. Birds notably warn each other of danger; other animals do as well. In the jungle and savanna, shouts of warning naturally migrated to shouts of direction, shouts of triumph, calls for help, while sounds for soothing babies gradually became recognizable as words. Pressure for survival selected the most communicative among us. Words for herding arose as did those of aggression. Those who thought in those words were those who survived. The emotional mind set decoded by Lakoff and colleagues came to be there naturally. Primitive emotions reign freely in word selection. Metaphors exist in most languages. Emotional words are just more interesting. The avenue here is the frame.

Lakoff and colleagues have ample evidence that framing one's words is an effective way to got one's messages across. It works. How to do that is briefly illustrated in our review of Lakoff's work.

Can we not frame our words of aggression in sportsmanship terms?

Less violent expressions should follow.

How to use our knowledge, organize ourselves and advance toward peace remains.


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