Metaphors and motivation

This morning my husband and I attended the Probus meeting in Ancaster. The guest speaker delivered a motivational talk and mentioned her passion for developing leadership.  During the question period I referred to Obama’s speech last night and asked what three pieces of advice she would give if she could have the Republican presidential candidates locked in a room for a workshop on leadership.

She was visibly startled and asked me to repeat the question.  Then her answers were quick, brief, and I thought at the time, rather glib.

1. Be authentic to who you really are.

2. Stick to the issues and don’t dig up personal matters.

3. Think before you speak and don’t be nasty.

A review of her talk, in other words, and sort of like “everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten.”

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder.  The manner of her response may have appeared glib, but she answered another question that had been puzzling me. What made Obama’s  State of the Union address last night so effective? In addition to his obvious charisma and outstanding oratorical style, he had delivered a hard-hitting and profoundly political speech without breaking any of those three “rules”.

I  reread the speech this morning before we went out.  As I am fascinated by the concepts in Metaphors We Live By (by Lakoff and Johnson ) I wanted to see what metaphors Obama used to make his argument.  The only explicit metaphor was about gambling with other people’s money, and maybe that was less a metaphor than a fact. So I copied the speech to my word processing program and did a count on key words.  Although it was plain, clear talking, the speech had a clear metaphorical base if you look at the connotative values of his vocabulary.  He mentioned  the following terms more than others: here is the count… America 54, work 45, tax 34, jobs 33, business 24.  He spoke repeatedly of home 19, college 12, economy 12, and so on.

How reassuring!  And he followed the three rules our speaker had mentioned!  Brilliant!

During intermission another Probus member approached me about my question and we had a pleasant chat.  Then, to my astonishment, he quoted a long passage from Tennyson’s Locksley Hall pertinent to the ideas we had been discussing!  I shall send him back a short anthology of some of my favourite poetry passages.

All in all, an interesting morning!

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