A Short Addition from “Meaningful and Metaphoric Tendencies” by O.G. Rose

Mental Health and the Metaphors We Choose

We make our metaphors, and then our metaphors make us.

Photo by Anthony Tran

We create metaphors that then make us and motivate us to see meaning where we find meaning lacking. ‘We shape our [metaphors], and then our [metaphors] shape us.’¹ Considering this, the metaphors we choose to understand life through will directly impact our mental health.

To allude to the thinking of Annie Duke, if I think of life as “a game of chess,” then I will think of life as something that luck plays very little part in: outcomes are generally a result of strategy, intelligence, and discernment. If something goes wrong, I’m the only one to blame. However, if on the other hand I were to think of life as “a game of poker,” then luck plays a significant role: even if I’m discerning, intelligent, and strategic, I could still lose, while an idiot could get lucky and win. Over time, the player with the best strategy will likely win more often than lose, but the best player won’t win every game, and yet losing won’t mean the best player necessarily did something wrong. Failure in poker doesn’t necessary prove error, only life.

Is life poker or chess? Unfortunately, when we choose the right metaphor for life, a sign doesn’t go off in the sky confirming we’ve chosen correctly — there’s always room for doubt — but I would argue that though there can be individual instances in which life is like chess, in the big picture, life is more like poker, precisely because there are numerous things that are beyond our control. And I would argue that it is imperative for mental health and psychological wellbeing for us to think of life as poker — the metaphors we choose to live by are critically important decisions — for otherwise when we encounter failures that are beyond our control, we will blame ourselves for them, and wonder what we did wrong when we very well may have employed “the best of all possible strategies.” Perhaps we are to blame, and perhaps there are “micro-instances” where “chess” is the right metaphor, but we won’t even realize a need to make “a choice about metaphor” if we’re not even aware of how powerfully metaphor shapes us.

Charles Munger’s “mental models” impact mental health, and if we are to live psychologically and existentially stable, we need to master “metaphoric intelligence.” Epistemology is health.

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Notes

¹Allusion to the McLuhan-esq thought of John Culkin.

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