This week I’m attending Outstanding Schools Europe, a two-day conference in London. Keynoter Angeline Aow shared the carrot metaphor below in her morning keynote.
Metaphors can be worth their weight in gold. For example this one.
“Picture a carrot,” Angeline Aow says to us, and we all picture, I am fairly sure, the same thing. In fact, she projects a child’s drawing of a carrot that is exactly what I was picturing. A stretched isosceles triangle with rounded corners, colored orange, and a nice tuft of leafy green.
Then she projects some other carrots, bunches of well-formed vegetables in different colors, carrots you might find at the health food store. A bit different, but not too different, still something you could find at the store. And then she projects a photo of carrots how they really come out of the ground, at least some of them. Carrots that look like they have two legs, carrots that are wrapped around each other.
“It was hard to find this image of carrots,” Angeline tells us. When you google images of carrots, you get the Platonic ideal of the carrot again and again. (Try it, I did.) She tells us that she had to google “deformed carrot” to get the image she shared with us. (Try this, too. There are lots of varieties of carrots in their natural state.)
Now the metaphor. You are probably ahead of me. Carrots, as they grow, have to deal with the environment they are growing in. They have to grow around obstacles. They have to deal with other carrots in their proximity. They have to deal with variances in the environment. So not all carrots look alike, not by a long shot. Not all people look alike, not by a long shot. Not all people are alike.
But. The image of a carrot that we imagine when asked to think about a carrot tends to be the same. Not being the typical carrot makes you invisible. A powerful metaphor.
As it turns out, carrots that don’t fit the mold don’t make it to the grocery store. They don’t sell. And therefore the idea of carrotness is reinforced for all of us: the orange, elongated isosceles triangle with rounded corners and the nice leafy top. The carrots we encounter are not representative of all carrots. Some carrots have become invisible.
To take the metaphor one step further, Angeline projects a package of baby carrots. California carrot farmer Mike Yurosek found he couldn’t sell carrots that didn’t fit the ideal, so he invented a method to shave off the parts that made them impossible to sell. He rounded off the bits that made them individual. He got rid of the evidence of their struggle to survive, of their unique histories. He made them all look the same. Commendable, as far as wasting less food. Powerful (and painful) as a metaphor. Is this what so many individuals have to do to fit in? Let what makes them unique be rounded off in order to be included? To be seen? We cannot be okay with that. What should we do about that?