Analogies of the Personal

Posted: April 19, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Analogies have great power; there are certain experiences and ideas we only seem to be able to get at through them. Analogy helps us make sense of things we can’t understand when we deal with them in their own vocabulary, making analogies particularly appealing as we approach personal and spiritual matters (this post will deal with the former). Yet, sometimes we can forget that the analogy is just that — a metaphorical understanding rather than a literal one, one that can reflect our feelings and perceptions about the situation more than it reflects the situation itself.

The analogy I use can enhance or obscure my understanding of a given situation. I’ve been listening to The Basics’ album Ingredients, and the song “With This Ship” has had some particular relevance to this line of thought, because the idea of going down with the ship is just the kind of imperfect analogy for the end of my relationship that I’m getting at. The image is appealing because it contains the feelings of dire loss and risk and abandonment. But, if I take this analogy to heart, even then it makes a difference whether I characterize the relationship as a sinking ship as recently as a couple weeks ago or one that had already sunk many months ago, for instance, or whether I say he abandoned me on it or that I was determined to go down with the ship — all those kinds of things can change how well or poorly I make sense of my own experiences, especially if I let the wave of analogy carry me away from the reality.

In this case, I’ve resigned myself to admitting that I just don’t understand it; the analogies my mind picks up, like smooth pebbles on the beach, just don’t fit the jagged experiences I am trying to comprehend.

Often when people draw those parallels, we pick that foundational symbol at the heart of an analogy without being fully conscious of the choice we make when we do so. It’s tempting, too, in the desire to make sense of things, to “twist facts to suit theories,” as Sherlock Holmes would have put it. In the face of this, accepting the lack of understanding is, I think, a more moral choice than subjugating intellectual honesty to the need for that comfort of a neat little idea tied up in an inaccurate analogy.

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