A Tidal Wave of Metaphors

The good and bad of tsunami metaphors…

For every weighty matter of our life, a corresponding footnote appears. The greater the impact of an event, the more indelible the ink. We are wise to be created this way, as it allows us to quickly connect the dots during times of crisis.

Late 2004 brought a cataclysm of a scale rarely seen in one’s life. Even from behind the safety of our television windows, the aftershocks would rattle our senses for some time to come. The tsunami in Southeast Asia there and then affects the way we think here and now. We are all now victims of the tsunami.

Soon after the disaster, World Vision president Richard Stearns was quoted as saying “This tidal wave of generosity will help them rebuild”, when speaking of the donations made towards the tsunami victims. Until then, I had never heard of a catastrophic level of kindness.

Fast forward to the devastation done by Katrina. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, in a hearing with the Senate Finance Committee, felt that it was necessary to generate jobs in order to help avoid a “tsunami of unemployment and suffering”. Even nine months after the fact, the imagery endures. Remember that the metaphorical use of the word tsunami would’ve had little reception a year ago, when very few people were familiar with the literal meaning.

Her use of this metaphor was more accurate than first met my eye. A tsunami is a secondary effect of a primary event – an underwater earthquake. Katrina, and her flood, would be equated through this metaphor to the earthquake, with the unemployment and suffering a wave of secondary events. One can visualize her metaphor graphically, as unemployment and suffering forms a peak that moves through the labor force.

These allusions to major events in our recent history are typical of us. Yesterday’s weather has always made for today’s news. And when yesterday’s weather makes history, you can count on it becoming part of our language.

Leave a Reply