…unpacking the image…

I’m going to take a break from my series of clarifiers for a while.  I want to go back to an idea I introduced earlier: Metonymy (ma-tôn-O-me).

Here’s a link to the original blog post: …when part becomes the whole…

So, why revisit an arcane term from poetry about an obscure figure of speech? What does this have to do with coaching, or more broadly with “getting along with people”?

I’m interested in metonymy because it illustrates the pattern of thinking which applies to images; the way we move from image to word and back.

Here’s the idea in a nutshell.  We all begin with limited data.  We want to make the most of that data – so we find what feels unique to us.  Finding what is unique simplifies the data.  Using the formula of metonymy (the Unique becomes the One) we distill the data into smaller and more meaningful parts.  This distillation confers metonymic power onto some images and experiences.  That power then begins to control our thinking because we remember unique images and experiences more easily.   With the greater degree of ease and vividness, the smaller slices of data begins to direct our thinking – imagistically.

Think about it:  What happens when you are in a traumatic accident?  If you are like most, your perception of time slows down.  The world takes on a strongly imagistic slant.  And before you can really do anything else, you are simply trying to process the imagery and the feelings associated with those images.  It isn’t until later that you start to associate words with those images – and really – for most people; the process of unpacking the imagery becomes an encounter with themselves as much as it is an encounter with the outside.  Making sense of highly charged images enables the person inside to discover the world outside.  It’s a two-for-one event.  Who am I becomes accessible and the world outside becomes accessible and I see both of them in an entirely new way (one that you might not want to repeat I’ll bet).

Why is this important in our interactions with others?  Because the images we carry with us continue to be more important that what our “words” might show.  Images are rawer, more visceral, more direct than words.  Words help us “frame” an experience by helping us to highlight what is unique for us.  But that uniqueness starts with the image.  It starts with the person who holds and contains the image.  And only after being contained by the image can that person (and the image) truly be said to “speak.”

Some might argue that what I’m describing is the difference between being introverted (and imagistic) and  extroverted (and outer-directed).  I would disagree.  I believe it is impossible to think without holding images behind our words.  So it doesn’t matter if we are introverted or extroverted.  The way we move from image to word and back is to comprehend and confront the images that lie underneath and inside our words.  The words themselves need unpacking because they prompt images which describe more fully “where-we-are” than the words themselves.

In a practical sense, the uniqueness of the image (which hold a metonymic charge) is why clarification dilemmas prompt entirely different answers from different people. Clarifying questions require us to investigate the images that are meaningful to us before we can bring words to them. We momentarily slip down into an “imagistic mode” to figure out “where we’re at.”  Being self-reflective means allowing the images to speak before we do.

Oh, remember how to pronounce these:  Metonymy (ma-tôn-O-me) and Metonymic (ma-tôn-O-mic).  I get tongue-tied sometimes.  Very frustrating.

Thanks for listening.


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