September 13, 2010

Fishing as a Metaphor for Social Interaction

todd_S_2010bBy Todd Schoepflin

Fishing is an art. It requires a great deal of skill and coordination. The same is true of social interaction, even if we don’t think of it that way. Interaction takes place almost every second of every day. So much interaction takes place that most people take it for granted. The student of sociology never does.

When I recently stopped for lunch at a waterfront location, I could see several people fishing. I was inspired by the view (the picture doesn’t do it justice) and reflected on the nature of social interaction.

When you fish you cast your line into a body of water. To interact you cast yourself into a sea of people. You look for somebody familiar, or interesting. You interact with someone you’ve connected with a thousand times before. Or you catch someone new with the glimpse of an eye. You smile, maybe even flirt. You shake hands. You friend them on Facebook. You hug them. You make love to them. So many interactions, so little time.

When you fish around others, sometimes your lines get crossed. The same is true in social interaction. You misread somebody. You fail to catch someone’s drift. You can’t get on the same page. You argue with text messages. You misinterpret nonverbal communication. You take them the wrong way. You incorrectly assume their intentions and motives. Sometimes you are able to clear up your misunderstanding and sustain your interaction. Other times, there’s no use. It seems like every time you talk to this person you hit a snag.

You go fishing with hopes, of course, of catching a fish. Sometimes, in the world of social interaction, you fish for information. We love to gossip. We love information (but not too much information). We love stories. We love scandal. We love drama (usually, other people’s drama). We’d like to practice what our mothers told us—“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”—but its awfully hard to follow.

When you fish, you use bait. And sometimes you do the same in social interaction. You bend the truth to get what you want. You dangle a reward in front of image somebody to get what you want. You might even threaten someone to get what you want. And you hope they take the bait--hook, line, and sinker.

And it must be said that no one is born knowing how to fish. A toddler doesn’t know how to put a worm on a hook. She must be taught. She can’t cast her line into the water. She must be instructed. And so it is with social interaction. A baby cannot talk nor understand the nuances of gestures and facial expressions. He doesn’t know the purpose of a dirty look or a wink. But over time he learns the rules of interaction, first from family, then his peers, and even from television.

Once the person is taught the tools (and rules) of interaction, she uses them for a lifetime. However, it should be said that people occasionally depart from the rules. There are norms of social interaction, but they are not always followed. We call this deviance. Deviate from the norms and you may face a consequence. We call them sanctions.

Whatever the case, we are always reminded by the people around us of the “right” way to interact. People talk of courtesy. They talk in terms of etiquette. Remember, we are told, it’s not polite to have your cell phone on at this or that moment. Don’t talk too loudly, we tell our children at the library. Don’t laugh too loud at a funeral, that’s not appropriate. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife (That one’s a commandment!)

Sometimes, you fish alone. But a lot of times, others are around you. It reminds you that most action is social action. When others are present, you can’t fish as if no else is there. You are mindful of them, you take them into account. To avoid fishing the same space, or to avoid crossing lines, you align your actions.

And even when you are alone, your thoughts soon drift to the people in your life. Your parents. Your friends. Your co-workers. Even without recognizing it, you’re thinking of (and preparing for) your next interaction. And how long can you go without checking your cell phone for missed calls?

You are finished fishing. You didn’t catch anything. It’s time to go home. Or to work. Or to school. You would have liked to stay longer. There’s so much more fishing to do. And so it goes here. This is a tiny view of social interaction. I didn’t cover all angles. I didn’t account for all perspectives. Interactions happen in so many ways and involve so many people. There’s so much more to consider. But it sure is fun to fish for a while. And it’s a joy to think about the wonders of social interaction.


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I like the metaphor used in this blog. The hardest part in my opinion in the social interaction world is being able to change the way you act/ speak due to your surroundings. You can interperate that as a metaphor that goes along with the idea; your not gonna try to catch a smaller fish with an even bigger fish, you would use a worm. That can be related to what i said before because its not like your gonna walk up to an older white man and say, "sup player!" or anything along those lines. So i guess what im saying is that it is important to be aware of your soroundings and adapt to them.

Interesting metaphor. I never made the connection but I certainly appreciate it. Reading the Book "How full is your bucket" I realize that we fish with both positive and negative bait. I am trying to use more positive bait.

Hello there!
I am Katey. I am taking a sociology class online. I read your blog post here, and I really enjoyed the fishing analogy you provided in relation to social interaction. It was very descriptive; it made perfect sense. I liked the way you compared a negative interaction with another to a snag on the fishing line.I have experienced that feeling with a certain girl at my school almost every time we interact. That part of your explanation truly hit home for me.

I also appreciated the parental saying to children, "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all." That saying I have heard so many times in my life and now I live by it.

Fishing is an art, I totally agree. The more I fish the better I get at it. The more I study sociology the better I get at that also. It is helping me look at the world in a different way. I would never have thought of fishing as a metaphor for social interaction before I read this. I fish often and this is totally on the money as you talk about this. Get ready to go, gather all your supplies, the anticipation of catching a big one, baiting your line, making the cast, waiting until the strike and then either you get something or you miss it. We go out into the outside world everyday, we interact with people so freely that it is just second nature, something we don’t even notice, yet there is a name for it, a name for everything we do, that I was never aware of before this class. I took my grandsons fishing, taught them all that I knew about this wonderful thing called social interaction or fishing. I do hope that they learned something they will take with them for a lifetime. Deviating from the norms can cause consequences that may be beyond your control. We can just keep teaching the young ones respect and courtesy, hoping one day that they will reel in that big one. You made this so simple to understand even an old fisherwoman like me can see my grandchildren (4 and 5) interacting with others more clearly than I could see my own children. If I only knew then what I know now.

I really enjoyed the fishing analogy know As a metaphor imbibing liquor could be said to signify a way of coping with the difficulties of reality.

Human reasoning is largely metaphorical and imaginative and it not only involves attempting to determine the role of metaphor in cognition.

Hi Todd, Nice Article. Thanks for sharing This amazing and interesting article on your site. I agree with you "Fishing is an art" and we need great skill and coordination to do fishing. Also you can share your fishing blogs and Reports on NY Angler. Keep sharing.

Hi, Todd Schoepflin,
Wow, Such an awesome campfire image you put here. Fishing is an art, I agree with you. I really enjoyed this article keep up the good posting.

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