The Slippery Slope Of The Metaphor

One day last week I indulged my masochistic relationship with Timehop to allow it to remind me of an argument I had on holiday last year.  This year was actually the first year in a few that I haven’t been snowboarding.  Despite a steadfast agreement with friends that if any of us injure ourselves off piste, the others will drag us and our broken limbs back to an insured part of the slope, I regretfully decided that my pre-existing back complaint might invalidate my insurance and make the cost of a helicopter ride slightly expensive.

The argument I was reminded of was with a skier.  As an able-but-definitely-not-great snowboarder without any serious length in my hamstrings to speak of, I need to get off a chairlift and sit down to fasten my bindings.  I was doing this on one slope when a skier came and stood right in front of me so close that his pole was actually touching my board.

I fastened up and wanted to get going but couldn’t because of the proximity of said skier.  I asked him to move in as many languages as I could (including English, Dutch, French and “French“) but no luck.  After waiting for longer than was reasonable, I grabbed his pole, moved it to the side and went on my way.  He was NOT happy.

It made me think that skiers and boarders should be taught of the intricacies of each other’s chosen sport, because one of the other facts that can sadly be missed by skiers (read “my brother” in this instance) is a boarder’s requirement for gravity.  Skiers can propel themselves with poles whereas a border needs to have a slope to build enough speed to deal with flat bits.  (Skating is hard and means you have a foot out a binding when you hit a gradient again).

One time we agreed that we would go to a restaurant at the bottom of one slope for lunch.  We all set off and 25 minutes later I got a phone call.

“Where are you?”

“I’m probably half way into that flat piece of road we needed to do, on foot.  I stopped.”

“Well can you hurry up because we want to get going again?”

(This was the usual sympathetic response I received, and it didn’t go down well because walking on piste in boots while carrying your board is an exhausting activity.)

I finally met my group and was, very nicely, told by one of my friends that that ride was like a metaphor for my life – it’s all going well and then I stop.  They’re so nice.

The great thing about metaphors is that they’re a simplifier, but that can also be their downfall.  A strong metaphor can mask complete understanding.  As Einstein once said, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  To do otherwise would mean that we’re likely to add disproportionate importance to what we want the analogy to show, and we can therefore miss what could be an important part.

In my metaphor, the weather could change and the snow could melt.  It could be really windy meaning even the fun bit down the hill becomes a chore.  There could be a blizzard, decreasing visibility so I can’t see anything.  My board or binding could break (as it often did).  I could be hit in the head by a chairlift (as happened once).  And what would my  helmet that sounds like a nervous ghost at certain angles stand for?  There are so many variables that can be ignored.

The same metaphor can also mean different things to different people.  If I hadn’t have told you about my irritation with flat snow covered surfaces and asked you to turn my ride into a metaphor, you could have interpreted it in one of two ways.  The first is the fun bit followed by a not so fun bit.  The second is a period of turmoil followed by calm.  Complete opposites – the thing I thought was good can be changed to bad, and the bad thing can be changed to good, just depending on how you think.

The truth is, my snowboarding fail wasn’t a metaphor at all – it was just a reflection that when I’m on a flat surface on a board I sometimes don’t move my hips enough or stand correctly so am prone to losing my nerve when carrying too much speed, catching a toe edge and faceplanting hard snow which isn’t really much fun.  In other words, behind the clever analogy is a real life scenario.

In some instances, it’s probably better to think of what’s actually happening than pretending it’s something else.

No one can buy true love in their life
We all need someone on standby
The night drew long you kept me strong
Now I can thank you in this song

You are my rock, you touch my soul
You brought me light, when all hope was gone
You showed me the secrets that I could unlock
You are my brother, you are my rock

I’ve seen people come and go
Young and old from all walks of life
They all leave a bookmark in the story that I write
Only when your luck’s run out
You find out who really counts

You are my rock, you touch my soul
You brought me light when I couldn’t go on
You showed me the secrets that I could unlock
You are my brother, you are my rock

You Are My Rock by Delta Goodrem (that was the most obvious metaphor song I could think of!)


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