A flat tree stump or rock at a convenient height can be used as a chair, but we would not usually call it a chair until someone sits on it. Something designed to be sat on (e.g. a kitchen chair) will always be thought of as a chair even when empty. What would you call a tree stump that was purposefully cut for sitting? A “pro se attorney” is someone who defends herself in a case, but we usually never call them an attorney otherwise. A person with a law degree and a bar id is normally thought of as an attorney even if they are not yet or no longer practicing. What if an attorney retires early in her career and becomes an opera singer for 35 years until retiring. Would you think of her as an attorney? Would she? Just about anything that is of appropriate size and weight can be used as a door stop (e.g. a trash can, a person). But we would never usually call them door stops. What about a typical purpose-built rubber door stop that was retired from its doorstop duties and spent a few decades being in an abstract sculpture? As long as its shape is still obvious, would you call it a door stop?. So how can we tell if something really is a chair, an attorney or a door stop? These things are all roles. Something can be acting in the role of a chair, attorney or doorstop without otherwise being named or thought of as such. On the other hand, if something is specifically designed or qualified for a particular role, it usually will be thought of and named as that role even when not playing it. When is the last time you actualized your potential for being a door stop?
Guest blog by Michael Uschold.