What is Context? Prelude to a Theory
by Lost Context
“And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: “Look at this Godawful mess.”
~Art Buchwald, 1970
Jewel was dead wrong. Jewel is a folksinger that was popular in the 2000’s, and she has this song (Hands) that starts with this phrase: “If I could tell the world one thing it would be that we’re all okay. And not to worry ‘cuz worry is wasteful and useless in times like these” which is a load of bull. If I could tell the world one thing it would be we are not okay and we should worry. Let us worry a lot. An attitude of indifference does more damage than being proactive. Without hearing the rest of the song you would think she believes what I just said she believes. However this is untrue because the rest of the song is about “standing up for what’s right” and “In the end kindness is what matters.” I just manipulated the meaning of the song when I took a phrase out of context.
Context, more specifically, is ” the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning.” I feel that context’s definition should be taken further than just the written word and applied to every situation/issue in life. Context, in other words, is everything. Every thing that is said or perceived can be misinterpreted if not put into the “bigger picture.”
In school, students are not taught to think critically or to interpret context, so as adults they cannot think for themselves about what is true (or not true) for them. This requires other people to tell them what to think and do, but this person telling them what to think has some type of agenda that has now been implanted in the subconscious of someone who doesn’t know any better. If we want to get to a personal truth, we must do the legwork and arrive at it ourselves.
Context can also affect our behavior. My favorite Psychology professor once said that behavior was completely dependent on the context of a situation. I will help or not help someone who is drowning based on the context of the circumstance. If I am running late it is unlikely I would not help. If I cannot swim it is unlikely I would help. If it was a homeless guy rather than a child, I most certainly would not help. It also seems that the attractiveness of a person has an affect of whether I will help him/her or not. We like to think we are altruistic beings, but this has been shown in countless studies to not be the case. The context of us and the other person determines our behavior without us even realizing it.
Sorry for the logic lesson, but I find that its really important to explain what I mean when I throw out a term like “context” without putting it into context. I use this term in most of my writing, theories and I believe that putting things back into context helps illuminate present situations. Please feel free to start a conversation with me or comment on my ideas, but most of all I hope that my ideas inspire you to think critically.