Green Festival Workshop

Despite some technical complications with the audio and video, we did ultimately have a successful workshop at the 2009 San Francisco Green Festival.   It started out with about 25 people, but 10 folks left when they heard that it was in fact going to be a real workshop and they would have to interact with one another.

After the introduction, the workshop had a short GREEN GOGGLES IS GREENWASHING skit based on the Wizard of Oz, and featuring several of the Bay Localize team  (Aaron Lehmer, Jenni Perez, Kirsten Schwind, Leah Fessendenn, and Nile Malloy).  That was followed by a primer on metaphors called “What’s Your Goggles”.

Why do we use metaphor? 

Some concepts are more abstract (like IGNORANCE is abstract)  and more easily understood in reference to something we understand better like spatial orientation and objects.  In this case, it is spectacles but it could also be clouds or fog…

Metaphors emphasize some aspects, while de-emphasizing or hiding others.  Certain aspects of a concept flow from the general metaphorical definition of the concept. Other aspects do not fit well within that construct, and are therefore not addressed.  Some of those hidden aspects can be addressed through complementary metaphors

Some Metaphors are Complementary

Note that Einstein famously said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

Metaphors shape how we see the world.

This is very apparent. A common metaphor is ARGUMENT IS WAR.  We speak of arguments in terms of war, such as she shot down all of my arguments.  This perspective leads us to view arguments in a very adversarial and competitive manner. [click] How might we view argument if we were in a culture that used the ARGUMENT IS DANCE metaphor.  [click] It is critical note, that our perspective determines the possible interventions.  There will be different interventions in an argument in a culture that thinks ARGUMENT IS WAR vs. a culture that thinks ARGUMENT IS DANCE

What are the different types of metaphor?

Mirrors are conventional metaphors that describe the dominant cultural narrative. Magicians are new metaphors which constitute a new way of looking at things. Mutinies are new metaphors that criticize and transform the dominant narrative.  [click] Take the concept LOVE.  LOVE IS A JOURNEY is the typical way of thinking of it – start, end, ups and downs, etc.. LOVE IS A COLLABRATIVE WORK OF ART suggests much greater control and co-creating something that others might consider beautiful.  LOVE IS A DEAD END STREET riffs off LOVE IS A JOURNEY, saying this is a journey not worth taking.

Next was a thought experiment on the notion “If Nature could see us in our entirety, what might we look like?”.   One answer is the ECONOMIC SYSTEM IS A ROBOT metaphor below.  This particular metaphor is not only explanatory abut also actionable; that is, it can be used to identify and target interventions.  It also be can to look at the big picture and also drill down on particular economic subset or holon (e.g., clean energy jobs in Richmond, the state prison system, asthma in West Oakland).

Then it was time for the main event – the breakout groups to find compelling metaphors.  Each groups selected someone to take notes and report back, and then selected a relationship to focus on.  The possibilities were:

  • Humans and Nature
  • System and Nature
  • Humans and System
  • Global North and Global South
  • Indigenous and Modern Society

The breakout groups discussed elements of relationship they wanted to emphasize, and brainstormed examples from pop culture illustrating emphasized elements.  The results of the breakout groups were:

Humans and Nature

  • Child at Christmas – me, me, me; taking not giving back
  • HUMAN IS ZOMBIE – mindlessly consuming
  • Gilligan’s Island – workign with what we have

Humans and System

  • Seen as a monolith
  • We are compelled to be part of economic system
  • Vast, complicated
  • Trope of “missing the forest for the trees”
  • Being caught in a maze and not knowing how to get out

Indigenous and Modern Society

  • Primary aspect: exploitation
  • Modern culture as slave-driver
  • Modern culture as cult leader
  • Idealization of indigenous culture – closer to nature, deeper spirituality, but lots of indigenous people buy into our “shot” more than we do
  • A young married couple that suddenly find themselves living together, trying to get along, with some really dysfunctional (patriarchal) power dynamics and a tendency to simultaneously idealize and despise the other’s gender. (Submitted via email.)


  • Choosing the right metaphor is important – they can take culture down right or wrong path
  • Comics use metaphors, sometimes in the wrong way
  • Some metaphors can be cross cultural

In addition, the Green Pill Workshop inspired Kirsten Schwind of Bay Localize to use a common Guatemalan metaphor of woven fabric in the Resilience For All panel discussion to explain the subject matter of an anti-oppression workshop featuring the Catalyst Project that Bay Localize had convened recently.


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