Because I am interested in using metaphor analysis for conflict transformation, I took the time to write out my description of the conflict that has most impacted my life in order to analyze my own conflict metaphors. My experience of this conflict very much shaped my interest in studying conflict transformation, and my memory and understanding of the situation greatly impacts my understanding of conflict; thus, I was curious to see what metaphors I would use in describing the conflict. Alarmingly, my top metaphors were of physical and verbal threat. In describing this conflict, I used words depicting physical and verbal threat more than all five of my other categories combined. This is not surprising, as I felt threatened and was threatened throughout the ongoing conflict; however, these are exceedingly negative words and phrases to mentally (and emotionally) associate with conflict, almost three years after this particular instance occurred. My other categories included conflict metaphors of force, silence and vulnerability, difficulty, illness, and fury. None of these are particularly positive metaphors of conflict, but they seemed less alarming than my strong association of conflict with threat, specifically physical threat.
I interviewed my mother, who chose to talk about the same conflict as I had chosen to explore in my own analysis. This was not surprising, as the conflict involved my family as a whole, and it made the analysis of the metaphors especially interesting. In describing the conflict, my mother repeatedly used the natural disaster metaphor of “the perfect storm.” This metaphor reminded me of the description of natural disaster metaphors in the article “Rowboat in a Hurricane,” which explained that “the overall tone of the disaster model is negative” and it has “an overall theme of powerlessness” (McCorkle and Mills 64). My mother even touched on this theme, explaining that she thought at the time of the conflict that she was in control, but looking back she knows now she had no control at all. Thus, the use of the natural disaster metaphor “the perfect storm” makes sense as she reflects on her feelings of helplessness.
In reflecting on the same conflict from my perspective as well as that of my mother, it is clear that our conflict metaphors are quite negative. This is normal, since “conflict metaphors are dominated by negative images” (McCorkle and Mills 58). However, conflict metaphors shape both perception of and action in conflict (McCorkle and Mills 59); therefore, in future conflicts it will be important for me to be cautious of my associating all conflict with metaphors such as physical threat. In fact, McCorkle and Mills emphasize the importance of “creating new metaphors that may offer more productive options for those in conflict” (65). This is a task that I must take on not only for my own sake, but for the sake of those with whom I will work in conflict transformation settings.
Overall, the experience of revisiting this particular conflict was difficult and the results were alarming, but I think it was a necessary step in my journey toward peace and conflict transformation. It is critical for me to be aware of the fact that my past experiences do impact my present understanding of conflict. Until now, they have impacted that understanding in a profoundly negative way. However, now that I am aware of this reality, it is possible for me to guide myself in a more positive direction, toward imagining and employing more creative, positive metaphors for conflict.