Metaphors we live by

December 1, 2022




When a teacher sends you a message that your 7 year old boy needs to stop making silly noises in the classroom and become academically focused, how are you supposed to react? Should we as parents become over-concerned about our child’s behaviour, should we disregard this as a disproportionate response from a frustrated teacher or should we slow down, reflect, and question the hidden meaning and power of our words?

In a fast-paced society where everyone is constantly under pressure to their goals, objectives and deadlines, this experience has once again taught me the power to slow down and think about the metaphors we use and what they can tell us about the unconscious bias in our language. It makes you thoughtful about your words, reflective and deliberate about your decisions and tremendously improves your relationships with others.

Thank you @Steven Shorrock for joining me and listening to my story.

Further information

Nippin Anand  00:00

Good afternoon.


Nippin Anand  00:02

I was wondering if you if you could have a chat with Nikhil, my son about grade one expectations. Now that we are approaching midterm question mark kneehole has taken a while to settle in class and has been chatting too much and making silly noises which distract others. I have had to talk with Neha on several occasions about grade one expectations. This is a much more academically focused here. And I would like to make sure that Nikhil understands this so that he can do his very best. If you’d like to meet and chat, please do get in touch.


Nippin Anand  00:41

Hello, and welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me. Nippin. ARLEN. embracing differences is a podcast series aimed at understanding different perspectives about risk management, often different ways of looking at risk and risk management, whether it’s human factors engineering, systems thinking, safety, management, anthropology, religion, mythology, psychology, sociology, humanities, business studies, you name it, they will all lead to different understanding about risk. The engineering world is contended that we should work towards designing failsafe systems. But for someone with a business hat on this would mean a cost to a system thinker in every failsafe design, we are only transferring the risk from one part of the system to another, or even from one form of risk to another. So you may be able to reduce physical harm by introducing a physical barrier. But you may end up with emotional or psychological harm to people, because they become risk averse. So what is the best choice to make?


Nippin Anand  01:45

The starting point is to stop criticising and start appreciating different pathways to managing risk. And then picking up the one that suits your needs is the appreciation of different viewpoints that is central to the idea of embracing differences. I must admit, it’s a hard thing to understand very hard indeed, and precisely the purpose of this podcast. So the podcast is available on Spotify, Apple pod bean, Google podcast and anchor. And I’m the host of this podcast and the founder of novellas, Nippin Anand at novellus. We are all about understanding and improving organisational culture within the framework of language. We call it social psychology of risk. Which means what does our language tell us about the quality of our decisions and the culture of our organisation? So that’s really where we are mostly interested? How can we improve a culture and make reflective decision habit? That’s the question we want to ask. And now some people call it safety culture. I like to use the word organisational culture because it is a lot more holistic in nature. I want you to also check out our IQ method, which is a conversational way of sensemaking and learning club events. The details of IQ method are available on our website novellus dot solutions. We also do taster sessions every fortnight to bring people from different parts of the world together. It’s an hourly session, which tends to be a lot informal and fun, I would invite you to attend one of those sessions if you want to know more about our IQ method. Now here’s a couple of special announcement to make before we start talking about the podcast today, which is the next IQ coaching series starts on the 26th of January. It’s a nine week programme, where we meet on an hourly basis every week as a small group of about six to eight people. If you’d like to book to this course or want to know more about it, please get in touch. The next IQ workshop in person is scheduled in London on the 23rd and 24th of February, we have already filled half of the spaces. So if you would like to book now is the time details are again on the wellness dot solutions, slash events. This was an email I received from the teacher of my seven years old son. What do you make of it? How does it feel? What would you do in this situation? What do you make of this language? In this podcast,


Nippin Anand  04:17

we will explore the power of metaphors, which is language taken from one domain and used in another context, which we do all the time each day every day during our interactions.


Nippin Anand  04:32

What can we learn about ourselves and others by reflecting on our metaphors and our language? In this podcast, we discussed the power of language and metaphors. It my friend Steve sharp. Let’s hear from Steve what he thinks of this.


Steven Shorrock  04:49



Steven Shorrock  04:51

So she said grade or the teacher said grade 170 So that’s seven seven years old, grade one and much more academically challenging. I think my first reaction is, I’m just amazed really, that this is written about a child, some, someone who is very much a child, seven years old, doing an acting in a way that is completely normal and should almost be kind of encouraged for children to, to express themselves freely and not not not fall into a template of how adults expect them to perform. Because that’s really what it’s about. It’s about, it’s about performing and fitting the mould. And I’m also wondering about the curiosity of the teacher about what’s really going on there. But for me, this is just completely natural, normal behaviour. What’s kind of abnormal for me is to expect a child of this age to be academically challenged, to be quiet, to sit still, none of these things are normal for children of that age. They’ve just become normalised because of the sort of default masculine professionnel, of the, of the teaching industry, as opposed. What was your reaction?


Nippin Anand  06:31

Oh, well, I was it took me about two minutes to first of all make sense of all of this. And the first reaction was, I was very angry. I was angry, just reading the words such as chatting too much, and making silly noises with distract others. I was also very, very disappointed or sad actually about reading the Word that this is a much more academically focused here. And I, I pondered over it. And I wanted to write an email right away with my very immediate thoughts, but then I, I reflected onto it. And I also had tears in my eyes that evening, I think I spoke to you about it. I education means something a lot to me, actually. And I and I, my kids go to a private school, Steve. And I say that because it’s not as it’s not a question of status, or, or some would say power. It’s really that my symbolism of education is different from many people. I think, if there is one way you can, you can. You can experience social mobility from one class to another education does give you the opportunity to do that. It’s at least that’s my way of thinking. For all the criticism that I hear about knowledge, economy and education, that it’s being commoditized, I still feel it has the power to transform lives. And so although it’s very hard enough on us in terms of finances, but we have made this commitment to send both kids to the private school. So when I, when I read this, I had, I had tears in my eyes, and I thought, am I putting too much faith in in education? Because it’s no different from an average public school. My daughter used to go to public school about for up to about four years ago when we stopped that so. So yeah, I was quite shocked. But then I it took me a while. And then next morning, I did. What I did was I wrote back to the teacher, not in a defensive mode, not in a kind of confrontational mode, but just to understand her thoughts and perspectives in terms of what she sees as the symbolism of learning and education. So I asked the question I said, So what do we mean when you say he’s making silly noises which distract others? What is the what do you mean when you say it’s an academically focused year? And I also said that I sensed a bit of frustration in this email. So can you help me understand where my kid is? Is is failing to deliver your expectations? And I think just opening up those metaphors opening up that language was quite powerful in some ways. Because the next thing I hear was an email, which was very with the tone of the email was very empathetic, even simple thing like this email started with good afternoon, no name whatsoever, straight to the point. The next email that came aim was with my name with a greeting. And it sounded a lot more personal. So obviously, when you when you make the other person reflect, when you ask an open question, it really helps them understand their, where their biases are, where they’re stuck in their in their thinking, it also helps you understand, know, where is the difference in our understanding. So I think the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of times we have this temptation that when we write something, when we when we, when we paint a picture, when you put a sign out there, we expect other people to think like us. And I think sometimes it pays off a lot of time, it pays to look at the metaphoric meaning of those things. And, and to, and to see where the lexicon or the or the list of words that associate with a particular symbol, whether it’s education or learning is different in your world, than the other person. I think, and what I felt was, and I see this regularly, these days, there is power in helping people uncover their biases. And it is pure coincidental that I was in school again today, because it was a parent teacher meeting between me and the teacher. And the tone was so different, it was so much more friendlier, there was there was a genuine willingness to understand the other person. So that’s, that’s the transformation. I have seen, Steve. Ever since in the last couple of months, it has really improved our relationship a lot. I don’t know what else I should say, what do you what do you think, Steve?


Steven Shorrock  11:47

It sounds like, you know, in the first place, there was a kind of profound disappointment, because you’ve got both of your kids in this school. Right? As I as I understand, so you’ve made this this decision. And what you were presented with was, was not the kind of philosophy of education that you really wanted. For them. I think, I think that you did really well, there was was actually waiting before you wrote back. And that’s a trap that we so often fall into of responding straightaway, which just further inflames the problem. And so you waited till the next morning, and then or the next day, and then wrote back with some with some with some questions. Another thing that it makes me think about is there’s a clash of kind of worldviews, you know, going on, but then, you know, when I try to emphasise with the teacher, you know, kind of person empathy or background empathy, I can imagine that the job is demanding, and stressful. And especially in a private school, probably a large part of that is the parents who have conflicting demands. So there are so there will be some parents who want for their seven year old, that very challenging academic, curriculum and environment, which should be very structured and sort of disciplined. And then there are others who want an environment where the child can be him or herself. With with less structure, and less discipline, to allow learning to kind of unfold in a natural way, including interpersonal relations between children who do make noises who do chat, and that’s how they learning to form bonds and relationships and so on, which in the end, are the most important part. So yeah, I imagine from the teachers point of view that that they’re under this stress to meet the conflicting goals of many different parents and perhaps the majority of parents are wanting something that you don’t, which is something maybe very academically challenging, where free expression is stifled. And where you know what, you’re going to be doing that Thursday at two o’clock, with lots of homework, I don’t know. But that’s, that’s kind of my imagination. I’m just trying to think from the teachers perspective, what kind of stresses might initiate a quick email that’s born out of frustration?


Nippin Anand  14:56

Yeah, and I think that’s a really good point because that It also came to my mind after I gave it a little bit of pause to understand her thoughts and perspectives when I think there is something fundamental here that I wanted, I thought about quite a lot. So, you know, we talk about the academic expectations, for example, what is the expectation? Now, one could argue that, that the expectation is to score high grades. But then it’s a bit like, you know, the expectation in an organisation is to is to meet your KPIs. But nobody questions, the intentions of that scoring, what is it that you are trying to achieve? You know, the school has this wonderful slogan, which says, Every child every opportunity, and I think it is something that the school embodies, in, its in its in its in the way it communicates to the outside world, it’s actually very, very well done. So somewhere down the line, in this performance, so called performance focused culture, we have lost a shared understanding of what does it mean, to be academically focused? So it’s a bit like people saying to us sometimes, oh, this article, or this paper, or this, this piece of work, this podcast sounded very academic. And I often ask the question, so what do you mean by that? And often what you hear is, it has no relevance to the real world. And is that really what academic means? So you know, it’s interesting to explore the metaphor of academic, I think, if you look at some of the top universities and their ranking, and then the the, at least the the brand image that they create, I think it’s a lot of it has to do with education for tomorrow, education for the future, education that helps children become critical thinkers. Better at questioning, that’s the trajectory that we all want to see now. One way, and so said to me, if the larger purpose, if the purpose of the higher goal of what you’re doing is spelled out is articulated, well, then there is a much better opportunity to develop that shared understanding about, you know, spatty things, for example, how a child must behave in the class, because then we have more when we can live with that ambiguity, or we can live with those differences, that some children will make those animal noises, and the children will perhaps default to something else. And we have willing to accept that, as long as all of them are moving towards becoming critical thinkers, or whatever the purpose of the shared purpose of, of academic focus is. So I think somewhere down the line, we missed the opportunity to create that shared understanding. That’s my


Steven Shorrock  18:09

remember, in the last podcast, we talked about Kierkegaard. And what he said was, that what you must do is find the person where he or she is and begin there. Right? That’s that’s to, if you want to succeed in leading a person, he said to a specific place. And a seven year old, is where your son was, in fact, many adults are there, depending on the context. I mean, look at adults in a football ground. I mean, what are they doing? They’re expressing themselves and making noises of all different kinds, that are seen as appropriate there, because that’s the way that they’re kind of express. mean, when it comes to, you know, these remarks on education, generally, I think this is what we, what we spoke about last time. I kind of agree with Rogers, really, that a person cannot teach another person in the way at least that they think all that they can really do is create an environment where where a person might be best equipped to learn. But the actual what we often call teaching is just instruction. And that’s mostly forgotten. I mean, what what do we remember that we learned in school? I mean, the actual lessons that we remember from if I speak about myself, because I focused on humanities throughout school of geography, quite minimal history, a bit but vague, you know, maths, really minimal, I mean, arithmetic really basic stuff that I had to use later in life and English quite a lot, because I just continue to write I suppose. What else, you know, things like business studies, and, and, and so on quite minimal. I think what I learned from school was how to be a person. That’s what I was really learning, learning at school and how to relate to others how to be disciplined, and meet deadlines, things like that. The specifics of the, of the classes that more or less lost. And I think that probably what would have been really interesting to learn about is things like systems thinking, how to integrate that through the curriculum. There’s, it’s, it’s not there really at all at the moment in in school. But others might be things like humanistic thinking, what are some humanistic principles? How can they be embedded in the curriculum? Critical Thinking? Another one, you might find that in some subjects like history, for instance, scientific thinking you’re fine, but you’re not really see it taught as such. But I tend to think that learning about different ways of thinking might be, in many ways better than learning about subjects.


Nippin Anand  21:33

You wanted to do something more?


Steven Shorrock  21:35

No, no, no, that’s, that’s just where my thoughts, that’s where my thoughts came to


Nippin Anand  21:38

know, you’re right. And I would love to explore the idea of systems thinking with you, maybe in another podcast, but you’re so right, I think, to me, at least, what I have learned in the past few years is, is the importance of slowing down. And just trying to understand the other person’s perspective is such a, such a such an important and such a basic skill step in building relationships. And if you, if you spend enough time understanding the other person understanding where they’re coming from, it becomes everything else becomes so much more easier. And a lot of it starts because, you see, there is a view that a school is an organisation and every organisation is run on the basis of processes and systems. And I think that’s a little bit naive, from what I took away from this experience and many other experiences, I think what we really need is, is a genuine attempt to understand people is to and to, to understand the differences where where we are so different from others. And to me, once you get that, right, there is a natural transition from build from understanding differences to building relationships, because now I understand what’s her her her idea of education and what’s mine. And we both have this immense opportunity to open up our minds and come together. And this is precisely what happened in the last couple of months that we both came to understand that we have a different view. And I’m just thinking if on that particular day, if I had responded to this teacher by saying, Why do you think I know you have no right to say, let’s say like this to my son, this is what not what I would expect from a teacher or from the school, what I would do is to push her back or push the other person back into their, into their rational mind, which is and defensive mind, you know, the moment you you approach things from that side. But the moment you start to open up the question, what you have, what you do is, is you create that shared bubble, wherever you are the two of you can actually meet. And I think this is that is the place where you change your youth, you experience transformation, and the other person experiences the same. And to me, that is a much more sophisticated way of learning and building bridges. I think language plays an important role there. Because if I was so caught in my language and my in my idea of academics and what it should be, and if she was doing the same, there would be no change that will be just back and forth of emails forever. Just just just reinforcing our worldview onto the other person doesn’t get you very far.


Steven Shorrock  24:44

Yeah, yeah, we’ve sure seen that. Yeah, yeah, it’s about that was really that that was what I said earlier about just delaying your response for at least 24 hours. It’s always a good thing to do. When you feel quite triggered by something something like this, because as you’ve said, that the chapters are, as we’ve seen in politics, that things will just go further and further apart with no meeting in the middle. I think what in a way, what you might be asking her to do is change her whole kind of approach to teaching. In effect, it’s refitting the whole production line, which is quite, which is quite difficult, isn’t it? Because you’re asking, or hoping that she might be able to teach in a way that would change the philosophy of teaching, as well as the as well as the practice. And in a way, many parents would have to buy into it. So that would suggest to me that what’s needed is a kind of encounter group between the parents, too. Explore what they think education is, what what is it for. But then it’s bigger than just the class because it’s the whole school. And then it’s the next school because this school feeds another one, there’s a whole production line. So I guess, the reasonable thing to ask is what what are some things that we could do? What could be, you know, how could, your needs and your child’s needs be? be taken into account, as well as the needs of the other children, all of the other parents as well, that still requires a conversation. And that would be quite interesting, too interesting to have. Because you also have situations where you’ve got parents asking for lots of homework. And me, for instance, I’m on the other side of the fence, because I feel that homework is mostly an effective creates a lot of stress, especially for primary school children, and for most secondary school, it creates a lot of stress for children. For parents, I’ve, I don’t know if I mentioned this to you previously, but used to have friends of our daughters who are at primary school, very young, we’re talking, you know, five, also, and they had homework, which was colouring in I don’t know, if I mentioned this to you. And the homework was to read a book and then colouring something that related to the book, and they had and it had to be done. And they’re five years old, you know, so colouring in art becomes a task, it’s not done for joy, it’s done because you have to do it. And we went around to a friend’s house. And there were two professors, two leading business professors at a leading business university that produces lots of MBAs and we went round to their house, and the two professors were sat there colouring in for their children, to give it to them, to give it to the teacher the next day, and I’ve done things like that, you know, I’ve done things like that. I’ve also written a note to say that we’re not, we’re not doing this, and this is what happens, we do the colouring in, and we’re not doing colouring in for our child anymore. You know, I’m just going to be normal colouring. And I’ve taken I’ve taken a strong line like that several times. Now, you know,


Nippin Anand  28:15

and it’s so interesting, because it goes back to what I was trying to say earlier, which is that somewhere down the line, the process has become more important than the outcome, the what is it that we want from this from this from from education from from Risk Management from anything that and we have become so bogged down into to making sure that we follow the process? And we have lost this the purpose to what what is it that why is it that we are we are doing homework? Why is it that we are putting record recording KPIs or injury rates or whatever? And why is it that we are sending children to school? What would we achieve by them scoring higher grades? What is the grand purpose of all this? And I think we have it and I think that is a very important conversation to be had between maybe parents, teachers and the head teachers, and also in between people in the organisation, that what why are we doing what we are doing? It’s such an A lot of people are so so feel so lost. And they feel so dissatisfied, because at the end of the day, we are meaning making species we need a meaning to do things we, it’s it’s and a lot of people suffer from depression, mental health issues and so on. Steve, you know this better than me because they struggle to understand what is the meaning of what I’m doing and they’re just not able to, to find that answer to that. Question. Very, very, very, very depressing, actually. So this child, I would have pushed him like the teacher did to say, yes, you need to follow what the teacher is saying, and you need to get serious about things. But what would we achieve by that? Nothing at all, absolutely nothing. So yeah, that’s no,


Steven Shorrock  30:19

uh, you know, you know. So I’m thinking, you know, that’s another. Another issue here is if imagine I’m not a parent received that email. And instead of a parent like you, this is a parent who places very strong demands on the child punishes them, if they do not perform the way that is expected and punish them even more, if a teacher complains about them, then the child not only gets punished, perhaps, perhaps physically, but then is going back to school with a view of school that you really wouldn’t want at all purely performative, no desire to learn anymore, but just to satisfy the teacher so that they don’t get punished. I think in many ways, you know, education is so far wrong, that it needs such root and branch reform. And we should be questioning all aspects of it, questioning what teaching is about questioning whether we should be giving grades at all, questioning whether we should give credits, questioning whether we should be giving any kinds of awards for, for instance, attendance, which, which pushes parents and children to go into school, even when the child is sick, for instance, doing doing away, potentially with many, or much of the paraphernalia that we’ve constructed around education, which is kind of adult paraphernalia that we’ve pushed on to children, rather than trying to find what is this child gifted in naturally, because I truly believe that most children do have natural gifts they’re almost born with. I mean, any mother or father knows that their child child reaches a young age before seven, and you know that they’re gifted at certain things. And so then, the job of the school, at least partly, if not largely should be let’s find out what this child is gifted in, and really help that gift to be given. You know, whether that’s a gift of the head, or have the heart or have the hand or have all three, you know, it’s not doing anything like that. I think at the moment, it’s it’s standardised, industrialised education. And that is that is rather sad, it means that it means that you have to do all the more at home to try to try to do that, which is appropriate anyway, because we’re the first teachers. But, but yeah, that that that is rather, that is rather sad.


Nippin Anand  33:18

It is, but but I think there is what I felt very strongly from this experience was that you could either become confrontational and challenging and demanding as as a customer, you know, because that’s what you are, you’re paying a considerable fee here that there is an expectation there. Or you could, you could have a conversation where you start to explore whether those differences are. And to me, I think once you and then there’s two things, which I would like to say maybe in conclusion, one is that you you strive for a common understanding. And you also strive for what is the higher goal that you want to achieve. And I think in for many things in life, there is always a common goal. And they can always be a common understanding, if we are willing to enter into a dialogue. And I think this what happened in this instance, was, which to me was, was quite powerful and eye opening was that it is only by understanding the other person that you you can, you can expect to be understood that that’s, that’s how I looked at it, the whole experience and it is so it is so wrong to to impose your expectations impose your understanding on to the other person without making a genuine attempt to understand them. I think this is where I see a huge difference. So yeah, so


Steven Shorrock  34:47

I guess what we’ve talked about there is understanding examine the many contexts in which they live and work. You know, the personal context, the institutional or school context, the social context that societal contexts, all of those different contexts that, that create conflicts, and therefore and therefore


Nippin Anand  35:10

pressures. Yeah. And as you so of course, when


Steven Shorrock  35:13

you receive an email like that, you can’t can’t understand it, but it’s in another way. It’s, it’s understandable from their point of view.


Nippin Anand  35:20

Yeah, precisely what I wanted to say was that that, that half day know, that email came in the afternoon, and that three to four hours that I sat down, first of all, to vent my anger than to cry with tears in my eyes, and then start to make sense of it gave me so much more to approach with an open mind. And once everything was out, and then and I think that was that was the key to it to really stop take stock of your biases and assumptions of the of the world before you start to to understand something new. What did you make of this interaction? What did you think? I think if you want to be understood, you have to first make an attempt to understand the other. All languages symbolic, word meanings are metaphorical, which means that the meaning of a certain word, or a phrase in my world, will be different from yours. It is very hard for us to imagine that the words that we speak and be perceived and understood in so many different ways. What this experience has taught me once again, is the potential for misunderstanding, which lies at the heart of all human interactions, and has the power to ruin all relationships. Things would have been very different. If I reacted in the moment to this email, it would have generated a trail of emails in a defensive mode, teacher first trying to protect our egos arguable position before we realise that it’s detrimental, it’s counterproductive, and it happens all the time. So the next time you get into a conflict, a disagreement, or a war of words with another person, slow down, reflect in the language and think metaphorically, there is a good chance that the other person did not mean what you thought. And vice versa. We don’t just speak and think with as George lake of so gracefully says, we also live by our metaphors. Learning to reflect on your language will make reflective decision making a habit for you. That is the power of language and metaphors. It makes you emotionally and culturally so much more intelligent. I leave you with those thoughts. Do you have any questions, any feedback, any comments, any criticism, you can always write to us? You can write to me personally, at support@novellus.solutions. You can also leave a message for us on our website novellus.solutions. You can email me personally at Nippin.Anand@novellus. solutions and you can find me on LinkedIn. Until then, have a good day.