chicken hen by munzelminka from Pixabay

“He looks like a penguin.”

Is it a compliment or an insult? What does it mean? Is he in a black & white outfit, waddling, heavy, or noisy? According to the study published in Open Mind by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, even single words have different concepts and associations depending on who’s sharing them, which tend to lead to disagreements, miscommunications, or arguments. The study found significant variability in how people get different ideas about even basic animals. The probability that two people selected at random will share the same concept about penguins is around 12%. That’s because people are disagreeing about whether penguins are heavy, presumably because they haven’t lifted a penguin.

Having different concepts is not a problem, though. The problem is that we tend to believe that everybody has the same concept. If I use “a chicken” as an analogy, I may mean the person is restless or forgetful, but not everybody gets it because each one of us has a different perspective. Especially when the words are conceptual, like love, philosophy, and freedom, the gap can become more apparent. Over-assumption based on your own little world can be dangerous.

When you use an analogy next time, step back, think a moment, and take another look from different angles.

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