Why do persuaders love metaphor?

I love compelling metaphors. I love the way they can inspire and motivate me, tugging directly at my heartstrings and firing up strong emotions to energise my action. Because of this I often pass them on through Facebook and Twitter – and others love them too.

Listen to this metaphor-dense passage from Martin Luther King (thanks to Seth Godin for passing this one around today):

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”

When you think about them, each of these metaphors seems richer than the last.

What happens when you consider life and history as an “unfolding conundrum”, and the affairs of men as a “tide that ebbs as well as flows”?

But the real power of the passage, it seems to me, comes when you don’t think too hard. Because metaphor is the native language of the unconscious mind, compelling metaphors seem to act directly on our emotional centres.

As we hear the words, we feel them tingle in our hearts, and in our guts.

Then we may act on those emotions, almost without thinking.

And that’s one of the reasons why powerful persuaders – like Martin Luther King, and like Seth Godin – love metaphors, and use them. Want another? Click here

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