What am I talking about?
That’s the point of context. Understanding things requires context.
As a professional researcher, teacher, creator, and investor of people, I have spent a lot of time learning to read and digest information. When conveying meaning to other people it requires helping them understand the context.
Context is simply understood as the surrounding conditions that inform. This is true of writing, experience, ideas, and everything else in existence.
Let’s say you get into your car after work and as you sit down you notice bright yellow stains on your dash. You reach for a napkin in the console and notice yellow stains on your fingers. In a panic, you jump out of the car and there are large blotches of a yellow substance all over your pant leg and running down to your shoes. What is going on? What do you do? Will you survive?
Context provides the answer to all of these.
Possibility #1 You have been infected by a biochemical plasma put in your car by a spy.
Context Required: Absurdly, you work in international espionage and had recently feared someone had discovered your identity. There were traces of this yellow plasma outside in your driveway yesterday, but you didn’t pay any attention.
Possibility #2 You have been stained by artist paint.
Context Required: You pain on the weekends and had been working on sunset and needed a new tube of death-stare yellow. You placed the tube in the visor of your car. The temperature that day was over 115 and chances are that the lid on the tube burst and caused paint to drip on the steering wheel and get all over you when entering the car.
Possibility #3 You ate a hotdog.
Context Required: You ate a hotdog on the way from your 1 PM meeting, throwing the remains and the trash in the Sonic waste can. Your favorite taste is mustard and you asked for extra. A bit dripped from you but you caught it in the napkin. Upon throwing away the napkin, you missed the bag in the passenger seat and a bit of mustard got on your backpack. You didn’t notice. You walked from the office to the car carrying the bag, getting mustard on your hands, the steering wheel, your seat, and the world.
Of course, this isn’t a technical space for teaching context. But it suffices. We cannot just assume someone messed up our car on purpose when we have no context to make that assumption. Context, in most cases, sort of serves as DIRECTION for intention and purpose as well as EVIDENCE for assumption and inquiry.
So, without the proper context, we will always miss the point and make false assumptions in the process. Without context, everything we think is about our interpretation of things and is a very lonely, scary, and often disoriented world.
Without apprehending context we will live our lives just blurting out responses that seem right at the time. Wise people never engage in this type of behavior. Mainly, because they are wise enough to wait until they have fully grasped an idea before making confident assertions. Just because we know facts doesn’t mean we know what we’re talking about.
I saw this picture today and my very first thought was “That is an oddly beautiful old barn. Then I realized that it appeared to have violin-type shapes on the roof and on the floor. A deeper look helped me notice that it was indeed the inside of an 18th-century cello. Then, to establish what the context revealed to me, I went further to the author and asked. They provided the exact answer. Mystery solved!
Our perspectives on things mold the lives of others, so we better have the right one. We must always be listening and paying attention, not to make our conclusions valid, but to see what is truly in front of us. After spending time with why and how something is are we then authorized to safely expound. That is why I think it is not only healthy but necessary for each person to write.
I was taught to write at a very young age. I am good at writing at times and often bad at writing. One of my faculty mentors in my graduate program said, “Your writing inspires me and is some of the most engaging that I have read in years. You must continue in our doctoral program and publish!” Two semesters later a professor would send me this line in an email, “Here are two links for remedial writing workshops. You would do us all a favor and take these before continuing the thesis in this course.”
What’s the difference? In the first class I was exposed to good writing and most of all, I was dealing with a subject in which I was immersed for years. I had passion, focus, and context! The other class was a technical course that I did not want to take. My attempt at explaining in poetic imagery didn’t work well with this guy. He wanted technical writing and that is not my context. What did I do? I asked the professor for examples of good writing in his class. He obliged. I learned the context of his instruction. I got the point. I got an A.
So, learning the context is key. It saves us much embarrassment. It helps us communicate. Which helps us grow people.
Do you want to grow people? Do you want to grow? There’s a context to that too. Let’s talk.