An Analogy about the Power of Support: The Evident, The Foundational, and the Imagined…

An Analogy about the Power of Support: The Evident, The Foundational, and the Imagined…

Education November 10, 2015 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
An Analogy about the Power of Support: The Evident, The Foundational, and the Imagined…

Analogies provide a creative lens through which to see and understand things anew. With this in mind—here is the story of two tall, prickly cactus plants, their arms determinedly reaching up toward the mountain tops…

Two cacti live in the midst of a beautifully manicured fairway on a golf course in the California desert. They’re surrounded by patches of lush green grass, and bordered by masses of flowering fuchsia bougainvillea bushes. From a distance, both cacti appear robust, their chubby limbs pointing every which way. However, although these large plants seem plump and hardy, it’s soon evident that they’ve been scarred. They have deep holes and bruises all the way up and down their fleshy sides.

Perhaps it’s a matter of poor environmental upbringing. After all, these cacti live on a busy golf course, and so they’ve been affected by many and severe injuries inflicted over the years by outside influences. (Specifically golfers whose wayward shots often ricochet off the cacti and damage them.) Nevertheless, in spite of all the hits, the two cacti stand proud and defiant, and do not bend to the onslaught.

What kinds of supports give the cactus plants the strength to triumph in the here-and-now despite the daily and inevitable challenges they confront?

Consider three points that help them prevail:

1) that which is evident—what is readily observed;

2) that which is foundational—what sustains them at the core; and

3) that which we can only imagine—creative, nurturing nuances that might have an impact or make a big difference.

And, how might these three points apply to children’s optimal development?

1)   Evident: Parents can demonstrate when and how to be strong. This involves showing how to be emotionally resilient and self-confident, as well as offering practical, sustaining strategies to help kids overcome obstacles and succeed.

(Sun, dry air, and warmth nourish the cacti, offering fortitude...)

2)   Foundational: Virtues like strength of character, integrity, honesty, and respect for others—these are just some examples of what enable individuals to stay rooted.

(Underground and out of sight, many stout networks anchor the pair of cacti, linking them together…)

3)   Imagined: Think boldly, creatively. Opt for an innovative approach, collaborate with others, or try something unexpected.

(At night-time, in the desert darkness when no-one is around, the cacti lean over just enough to touch and to offer one another comfort and connectivity. No-one ever witnesses this but I can imagine it happens all the time….)

It’s critically important for parents to evidence and provide children with direction and encouragement, to offer foundational supports and buffers, and to think resourcefully and creatively. Children will respond in ways that will help them reach skyward and flourish.


* Analogies and kids: An analogy connects what a person already knows with something new or unexpected. Analogies are a creative approach to learning and thinking and they’re instructive, too, because they draw interesting parallels between different things.  Analogies present a way to help children hypothesize relationships, develop higher-level thinking skills, build reasoning skills, spark the imagination, and foster language awareness. Analogies are fun to read. And, reading is an integral part of a language-rich environment, and can enhance children’s development on many levels. Analogies are also fun to write. Help children find out more about analogies, including how to create some original ones based on their own experiences.

·      Special thanks to Susan Fenwick who introduced me to the beautiful Palm Desert landscape, and the glorious cactus plants which manage to thrive therein. (She also encouraged me to be adventuresome, and she graciously forgave me my picture snapping and creative meanderings when I probably should have been more focused on my golf swing…)

·      Scott Barry Kaufman inspires me and countless others to embrace creativity. He reminds us that not only did Einstein say, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” but that these are words to actually live by. Scott read this piece and then encouraged me to post it when I was hesitant to do so. Thank you.

For more information abut how to support and encourage children’s intelligence, creativity, resilience, and productivity, see Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster, House of Anansi press, 2014) and visit

Barbara Oakley states, “ Fun imagery seems to make things less serious.” She explains how it a “useful” rather than a “lightweight” technique. For more information on learning and the importance of imagination, analogies, and metaphors, listen to Scott Barry Kaufman’s podcast interview with Dr. Oakley re learning practices, and tools to help people learn:

For more on the importance of reading and how to encourage children to engage in reading activities see HERE.


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