The Importance of Metaphor

This PowerPoint slide, made by Virginia Tech instructor Bruce Hull, was presented to me and 50 other students in 2009 during a course called Nature and American Values. I was an undergraduate then, going on my fourth year of college with still one more to go; once again discovering that my major was probably not the right fit for me. Taking this course was what I thought would be an escape from the “brain-dump” I was receiving; what I feared to be the irreproachable world of the chemically-driven solution to the current obesity crisis (my major was Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise). Personal anxiety and indecisiveness aside, why did this question accompanied by these two images, stick in my mind until today?

Upon presentation of this metaphor, what transpired was a group discussion about technology and our faith in it for the benefit of future peoples. This was an interdisciplinary course; so naturally, everyone began to voice their opinion in regards to their own field.

[learner to learner] Insert subject here: “__________ utilizes technologies that are advancing at a rate faster than we have ever seen before!” Great, woohoo!

So what? It goes without debate that most everything is moving at an alarming rate.

Now, [teacher to learner] “what is your philosophy on the matter?”

The “cycling race”: You have faith that technology will solve all of our resource constraints, etc., so speed on!

The “whoa-Nelly”: You do not have faith that new technologies are the complete package and wish to give the pedaling a rest to reexamine our options (maybe even save some energy by slowing down, har har).

[learner to teacher] “What!? There are two or maybe multiple sides to things? These concepts we’ve been regurgitating actually have an impact on the future of mankind and we have a say in the matter?”

This post does not serve as a forum to discuss the metaphor itself, but to do two things:

  1. Provide an example of a tool this instructor was using—a relatable message (riding a bike) that provokes reconsideration of preconceived comforts (e.g. technology has always been successful for human need in the past, and thus, will be in the future as well).
  2. Explain the title of my blog “simply pause and take your feet off the pedals.” The reason why I did continue and finally graduate with my Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition was influenced heavily by the class described above and Mr. Hull’s provoking questions. I suddenly did not feel trapped by the ordinary path of someone with this degree and found agency in my own decisions as a learner.

The “pedal” metaphor has stuck with me today and I can admit that it runs the gamut across my life choices. Not necessarily that things are black and white per se (you are either on the bike or off), but that taking pause and reflecting is never a bad thing. This is why I blog; and thus have themed this WordPress site as such.

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