Metaphors can be used as beguiling forms of rhetoric. And at the same time, metaphors can contain veiled—or not so veiled—threats or call-to-action. Puns can certainly be a form of humorous wordplay but can also backfire as offensive. And there is a gamut of bad arguments such as straw man, equivocation, slippery slope, ad hominem, appealing to the bandwagon or authority, false dilemma, and a host of other logical fallacies.
Words have power.
Even if we backpedal, words still have staying power. In some situations, many of us may not want to seek common ground at all. In other situations, work can be made toward repair, reconciliation, and restoration of relationships and communities. And yet, in few situations, we just let it blow over.
For example, the line may be drawn at calling the three top Democratic women in Michigan “witches ready for burning at the stake.” Name-calling is absolutely the lowest form of intellectual argument. It’s not even fair play at all. Yet, people have fired back with both humor as well as a mock renaming of Weiser Center for Voter Suppression, Political Assassination, and Witch Burning.
On the other hand, noting that a good conversation is “like a miniskirt, short enough to retain interest but long enough to cover the subject” can elicit a chuckle but turn out to be offensive to women. However, there is room here to reflect, learn, and grow about microaggressions that are far too commonplace for women, but there is also room for some people who want to take it in stride as they poke fun at themselves.
And then there are memes that simply elicit a groan, unless one happens to be a certain diehard football fan, such as one of an elder and a young lion gazing into the sunset. The young lion asks: “Dad, what is a super bowl?” The answer: “I don’t know, son, we are lions.”
The bumper sticker saying, “Believe in America, Not the Media” will have us vexed. If we believe only what is in front of us, our worldview will certainly narrow. But on the other hand, we can’t believe everything the media says without fact-checking or understanding the depth and breadth of the issues at hand.
In literacies circles, even in intergenerational circles, we can ask ourselves:
Where is the line drawn between metaphors, puns, and rhetoric?
How do our words affect other people?
What words and phrases can we let go?
How can we have difficult and lengthy conversations that are about issues and not resorting to personal attacks?
How do we spot logical fallacies?
And how do we counter them?
When is it, and with whom, that we can “call-in” rather than “call-out?”
Should we be reading more deeply rather than just browsing tweets and memes?