I am a professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Angelo State University where I teach composition, literature, and creative writing. In my classes, I’ve been employed by the State of Texas to teach young citizens how to improve as readers, writers, and people who can think for themselves and provide evidence to support that thinking.
As I design my courses, I always include a lesson on metaphor and its influence on our thinking. I provide my students with examples, such as “time is money” and “life is a journey.” These metaphors are so common we might not be aware of them and the way they shape our understanding of time or of life, but they do have powerful influences on how we think. And those thoughts can lead to specific decisions and actions.
I selected teaching as a career because I believe in the metaphor “knowledge is power.” People gain power in a number of ways. They’ve inherited it through their family. They’ve worked hard on practicing a specific skill over time, and the performance of that skill gives them power. Some people gain power by convincing others to give up their power. Some people gain power by taking it by force. Some gain power through mutually-beneficial relationships with others.
I teach metaphor to my students because I want them to see the metaphors they’ve selected when thinking about themselves and others. Do they see their education as a treasure hunt? A steep climb? A prison sentence? A path to celebrity? A journey to freedom?
I also use examples from contemporary political culture. And our current President of the United States offers a very interesting example. While I believe “knowledge is power,” it might be said that President Trump believes “building is power.” He probably became President in large part because other people also believe “building is power.” They believe that building a wall and rebuilding the infrastructure and relocating our manufacturing capacities would create more power because we would be more secure and enriched by these building projects.
While President Trump has no experience as a politician, he was probably elected by citizens who preferred someone who has gained power through building. So, if he is successful in serving our country by building power for others through his building projects, he will be admired and granted even more power to build power for our country.
However, if his building projects fail, then his power fails. Suppose the wall he wants to build between Texas and Mexico seriously damages the economy of Texas, increases inflation, and fuels more poverty and violence in Mexico. Suppose the wall he builds between his administration and the press creates confusion about what counts as evidence, knowledge, and truth. Suppose the wall he builds between our country and other countries increases the chances for domestic and foreign terrorism, war, and the death and injury of our loved ones. Suppose putting America first in the race to build power puts us further behind.
But also suppose the President doesn’t believe in the metaphor “building is power” after all. Suppose he believes “division is power.” Suppose he believes “walls are power.” Imagine for a moment that all he ever wanted was the most powerful building and best-protected walls in the world for himself.
What we imagine next is always dependent on the metaphors we build with.