Matthew Wingett discusses how telling a well-known metaphor using the right subject matter can get others to see things from a new perspective.
Although this article is about using a metaphor, it is also a true story. A friend of mine regularly uses her NLP skills in her work with troubled young people whom she takes on residential personal development courses. One day, she was working with a group of kids who had been brought to her by a Church organisation. These kids are what are called "damaged" by some, and "delinquents" by others. In the course of a discussion on their arrival at the centre where they would be staying for the following week, one boy reacted strongly to being told that "lights out" was at 11.00 pm. He was, he admitted, terrified of the dark.
Immediately my friend jumped in with an offer of help.
"Would you like to get rid of that fear?"
"Well yes, sure," he looked at her with real surprise.
"You can do it really easily."
"Okay," he said with hope in his voice.
Then, a woman in the Church group intervened.
"What are you going to do?" the woman asked.
"It's very simple. Just a straightforward technique that will help him see his fear in a different light."
"Oh, really?" the woman asked, sceptically. "And what happens if it doesn't work?"
"Then we are where we started, so nothing lost. But it does work."
The Churchgoing woman looked deeply hostile and suspicious. "It is unfair to raise people's hopes like this for something that doesn't work," she persisted.
"Well, you may have heard of what I'm going to do. It's called NLP."
"NLP? That's mind control! I am going to talk to the other members of the group. Don't do a thing."
My friend was left to sit with the group while most of the church members disappeared into another room for a serious talk. Ten minutes later they returned with their verdict.
"We are a Christian group. We believe that through God's grace, through the power of prayer, this boy will be cured. That is, if he is good and if we all pray for him. We don't want you messing with his mind."
It all seemed rather hopeless. My friend would now be watched closely all week for signs of using her "magic powers" on the children, and so she wouldn't be able to give them the help she knew she could give. It seemed to my friend that this Church organization wanted to hold the monopoly on messing with people's minds.
Nevertheless, my friend smiled at the rather serious and very earnest Christians who were confronting her and said:
"It reminds me of the joke about the devout Christian who is drowning. You have probably heard the story. He falls off a ship in the middle of the sea, and prays to God for a miracle. After a while, a fishing boat comes up to the man and the crew members try to help him on board. But he refuses to be picked up by them, saying that he is expecting a miracle from the Lord. Next, the Coastguard comes by in a rescue boat - and he refuses their help, too - explaining that he is waiting for the Lord to miraculously deliver him. Finally, a helicopter flies over - and he sends that away, too… Then, after many more hours more at sea, he drowns. Up in heaven, the man is furious at his untimely death, and demands to speak to God. He is shown into His throne room, and he asks with complete puzzlement on his face how God could have let him - his most devout servant - drown, without raising a finger to help him. The Lord looks at the man for a while and then says: What do you mean, I didn't raise a finger to help you? I sent you a fishing boat, the Coastguard and a helicopter - AND EVERY TIME I SENT YOU SOMEONE, YOU REFUSED MY HELP! That's why you drowned."
My friend looked at the members of the Church group and asked them if they understood the meaning of the parable. Of course they did. It was an irony that did not go unnoticed by them that they had used it themselves to illustrate their own agendas on many occasions.
The Christians went away and talked about her offer of help.
This time they changed their minds and let her perform the work the boy so urgently needed.
Remember: when you judge your metaphor just right by using the same language as the people you are communicating with, it will pay off!
Copyright Matthew Wingett, 2009.