Friday, July 28

How not to use a metaphor

A Reader Responds to David Brooks's column in the NY Times:

You write, “But they do hope to change the environment, and slowly begin to crowd out Hezbollah influence, the way healthy grass crowds out weeds in a lawn.”

Let me guess: you don't have a lawn, right?

The sad thing is that this very type of incorrect assumption probably has the most to do with why the world is erupting in violence and despair. Weeds never get crowded out by healthy grass because weeds are way more durable and aggressive than healthy grass. Weeds eagerly grow in cracks in concrete, they grow without watering and fertilizing, and they grow in areas where we can't get grass to grow. Efforts to kill weeds often end up killing healthy grass. Around our yard, we've decided that, rather than spraying we have pets and we don't wish to expose them to toxins, we'll remove the weeds surgically, by hand. It works, but it's time consuming and it never ends.

I suspect it's the same thing with terrorism. Terrorists, like weeds, are a whole different organism — much tougher and more resilient than the innocent civilians they exist among. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that, like trying to kill weeds in healthy grass, it's going to take precise and patient efforts. It will never be over — just like weeds, every time you pluck one, another pops up, and it's just as important not to kill all the healthy life and infrastructure around it. No resident of the 'burbs would view a poisoned, parched lawn devoid of both weeds and grass as a victory. Our ultimate goal isn't to kill weeds; it's to have a nice lawn.

The civilized nations of this world would do well to start viewing the situation the way they view lawn maintenance, with just as much emphasis put on protecting and nurturing the healthy and desirable as weeding out the undesirable.

-Christine Mank, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada