Metaphors We Live By

What are the metaphors we live by? Is life a journey, a game, a dream, or a movie we are watching? How do these metaphorical perspectives affect our lives? Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Life Is Purgatory

Some people see life as a sort of purgatory to be suffered through. In fact, many religions explicitly use this metaphor. Life is suffering, they claim, and by suffering virtuously, you get to go to some wonderful place afterwards. This idea shows up in other ways as well. Some people think it is normal to work at a job or jobs that they hate for most of their lives, in order to get the “reward” of retirement.

Life Is A Party

Now this is a more enjoyable metaphor. At least for a while. People who live by this metaphor, though, often end up bitter later in life. Partying to excess has its consequences, and a party has to be paid for by someone. Having no money for food and drink takes a lot of the fun out of a party.

Life Is A Movie

This is one of those metaphors we live by both consciously and unconsciously. People will sometimes say things like, “This is my big scene,” or “Is this the part where…” followed by some movie reference. More often, people just unconsciously take the role of movie-goer in their own lives, feeling like they are watching a story directed by someone else.

In one sense, this perspective provides a more objective view that may keep a person from suffering too much. The next scene is on its way, after all, and there are always unexpected plot twists that can be good or bad. On the other hand, this perspective creates a sense of passivity. Maybe it would be a more useful metaphor for life if a person also saw himself as the writer, director and producer of the movie.

The Best Metaphors We Live By

What are the best metaphors for life? Many have their useful aspects. A “journey,” “quest,” or “path,” would keep you looking for the better way in life, and perhaps motivate you to overcome any obstacles. A “story,” might give your life meaning. The metaphor “adventure” could make you see life problems and challenges as interesting and exciting.

However, all metaphors are limiting too. For example, life may be more fun as a “game,” but a game has winners and losers, and competition is the rule. This isn’t always true in life, and a person would miss out on a lot if this was her ruling metaphor. Even “quests,” or “journeys,” have their problems. They don’t allow much for the idea sitting still and enjoying just “being.”

The metaphors we live by, then, should probably change continually, to get the best out of each, without being limited by it. See your life as a movie, for example, when times are tough, and consider the later scenes in which your problems are resolved. Then see your life as a game to be played when you need to make strategic life decisions. When it is time to learn life lessons and develop your spirituality, let your life be an “awakening.”

After working in a casino for years, I found myself using that as a metaphor for life. There were players who put the odds in their favor and so won, just as in life. Those who played when the odds were against them (most players) lost money, and their occasional “wins” were just bait to keep them losing. This seemed to parallel life in general too. Of course the “house” or casino owners always won. There were certainly lessons here, as there often are in the metaphors we live by.