Navigating a world without context is like trying to find your way out of a pitch-black room. It’s disorienting, problematic, and most of the time downright difficult to find your way.
Context is everything that exists outside of a specific idea, thought, event, or situation (the list goes on and on). It’s the circumstance – the situational factors – that help reach a specific idea, an event to come into fruition, or a situation to spiral out of control. In life, context informs everything around us. How the world works and how people act comes down to context. Because context is important.
Context is complicated
As a habit, a lot of us ignore context. It’s easier to maintain a sense of order that way. Say we meet someone whose thoughts and feelings oppose our own. It’s easier to discount them as wrong and never even consider their point. But their thinking is shaped by something.
The events of the world are no different. Say you see a car accident on the news; a multi-car pile-up with the loss of life. It’s easy to look down on the situation, judge one driver or another for reckless endangerment. We’re less likely to take the time to consider the individual circumstances of the drivers involved, the conditions of that particular day, or some freak turn of events that may have taken place.
We often ignore the bigger picture because this way we can ‘solve’ an issue quicker, move on, and forget it ever happened. But in doing so, we also stifle our own thinking and perspective. As Sam Sommers said: “Situations matter. Context has a dramatic influence on how we think, how we act, who we are as people. But we don’t notice it.”
So what would a world without context look like?
When we travel to other countries, we do so with an understanding of the different expectations, conditions, and codes of conduct that exist. We understand other cultures are worlds apart from our own and so approach our time there carefully with this knowledge in mind.
Without this valuable context, travelling would be problematic. Imagine if we were all blissfully unaware of the differences across countries. For a start, the sheer amount of left-side drivers that would descend on US freeways would be overwhelming.
Another example is countries that have strict dress codes. Without context, we’d rock up to these beautiful, cultural countries and inadvertently disrespect their core values by wearing a pair of shorts or having our shoulders on display. The Vatican is a prime example – no shorts, no hats, and no sleeveless tops. You’ll have to leave your muscle shirts at home, sorry.
Another example closer to home is the widespread opinion that London – and to a lesser extent all cities of this rainy nation – are antisocial. We’ve all heard comments about how rude everyone in London is. You spend twenty minutes on the underground in silence, avoiding eye contact with the person you’re mere inches from.
What we don’t often hear is people breaking down why this happens. As humans, we tend to retreat if faced with an overwhelming amount of stimuli. When in such close contact with so many people, we often shut everything out. We don’t always want to engage in small talk with the suited man to our left. Even those who critique London for this very reason would find themselves in the exact same position. There’s also the fact that a lot of people on the Underground are commuters. They’re trying to get from point A to point B. Maybe they’re planning the morning’s first meeting and don’t have the time to be social with strangers.
This is less about London being antisocial and more about it having a different context than we’re used to. It’s easier to label the city and its inhabitants as antisocial and call it a day.
Context is important when it comes to our consumption of media. If we approached every film, TV series, or book like it was something completely new and separate, we’d miss out on half the enjoyment. We’d enjoy them on the basic level only.
Using context, we approach every piece of media we consume with everything that came before in mind. We draw on our knowledge of a writer or director’s previous work when encountering their new material. We judge film’s against what we’ve recently seen or others from the same genre. Without context, for example, we’d miss out on all the little quirks that signify you’re watching a Tarantino movie. His latest film couldn’t be a better example! If you don’t know the context of Charles Manson and Sharon Tate, there’s a lot you won’t be able to appreciate.
Without drawing on the history, culture, and moments that surround a piece of content, we’d struggle to make sense of it altogether, let alone enjoy it. Very little can remain separate from its moment in time. These factors add value, meaning, and significance to every piece of media we consume. And without acknowledging these things, we’d miss out on a lot of the true meaning and satisfaction.
Now this is a big one. We’ve all been quick to rush into battle with someone close to us. We set off an argument based on one tiny piece of information without thinking of the bigger picture. We ignore the context of a situation and get carried away with our emotions.
Once we recognise that everyone’s actions are influenced by context, we come to understand the importance of unpacking this before we proceed. If your partner misses an important event, are you quick to jump on the defence? Or do you wait until you know the whole story and circumstances that lead them to miss it?
Personal relationships operate a lot smoother if we avoid acting on incomplete and inaccurate judgements. If we wait until we understand the full context of thoughts and actions, interactions become a lot more effective as you’re both on the exact same page.
Our own individual context can also be essential in establishing bonds. Everything that’s happened in your life will influence how you think, act, and feel. In sharing this personal context with those around you, you let them in. They understand you more and can better navigate your relationship will all this information in mind. Elements of your individual context that you share with others may also take your relationship to a more fulfilling, deeper level.
Acknowledging our personal context is also key to self-reflection. By acknowledging what’s shaped us and how we are influenced by what surrounds us, we get a better grasp of who we are and how we operate. If we become more self-aware, we can approach all areas of our lives better.
To sum it up: context is important. And it comes into play in more areas of our lives than you might initially think. By paying more attention to context we can better perceive the world around us.
And we’re not done yet! In part two, we’ll look at how context affects business communication and how we can all work better.
You’ll find plenty of useful posts about business, communication, and our team’s interests and passions in our blog. If you want to better communicate what you’re passionate about, get in touch on 0161 413 8418.