Have you ever heard a bad analogy?
I have. Frequently. In classes, church meetings, or from my friends.
The most memorable one occurred at a stake center in Oregon several years ago. It was the night of my ward’s Christmas party and I was standing outside with a friend, watching the falling snow.
Tiny flakes clouded the air, silently drifting to the ground in a glittering mist. It was beautiful. My friend thought so too, but didn’t know how to express it.
“Wow,” he said. “It’s just like the Holocaust.”
Wow is right.
According to www.dictionary.com, an analogy is “a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based.”
The problems in our analogies start when there isn’t an obvious similarity, or any similarity at all, between the things being compared. We can prevent this by making sure that in our analogies the connection between the things being compared is unmistakable.
At other times our analogies may start out strong, but weaken when we consider other aspects of the things being compared. An analogy comparing relationship levels to those of a food pyramid may be strong in the sense that we need to have a solid foundation of trust before moving on to fun or romance, but loses strength if we think about the portion size aspect of the food pyramid. Should romance, like fats, oils and sweets, be used sparingly?
So analogies have flaws. When we watch for, identify and fix the weaknesses, analogies become effective means of communication.
Well-constructed analogies are great for rhetoric. They can help us to understand or explain things that may be unfamiliar by referring to something both parties understand and then applying a deeper meaning.
The Savior taught using parables, a form of analogy, and his apostles today often use them to teach us. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf used one in his talk “A Matter of a Few Degrees.” The story grabs our attention, and when the good comparison is formed, the analogy becomes a powerful teaching tool.
While clarity is important for a good analogy, it doesn’t mean we can’t be creative.
For example, instead of explaining that she’d had a hard time articulating that she was sad, my sister Sarah used a simile (a type of analogy) and wrote, “He asked how I was doing and I made a sound like a squirrel choking on an acorn before getting hit by a car.”
Creates quite an interesting mental image, doesn’t it?
Or when a professor was teaching my class about why we shouldn’t use
Word Art in Microsoft Word: “You do this… and then it looks like a Relief Society flier.”
I will never use Word Art again.
By using good analogies, we can color our conversations and teach one another with innovative turns of phrase. We can help one another gain a greater understanding of what we are trying to express, even if we aren’t sure exactly how to say it.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Only if I’m careful.