“For me context is the key- from that comes the understanding of everything.”
– Kenneth Noland, American contemporary artist.
Interestingly, my first acquaintance with ‘Context’ was from an experience with something which is opposite, that is ‘Out of Context’. I was in junior school when one of the girls in my class came running to the teacher and exclaimed loudly, “Miss! Miss! Dilip is saying he will kill someone!” When Dilip was called in for his explanation, it transpired that during lunch, he had remarked, “It is so hot. I feel like killing that person and sitting in his place in the air-conditioned school office.” Here was a case of a young mind taking some words out of context. The listener, listening to the specific set of words without the benefit of the context in which they were spoken, however derived a different meaning altogether.
As I go through life, the power of context continues to be revealed to me. I am witness to myriad claims and counterclaims in the realms of politics, media and entertainment in which politicians and celebrities, when confronted with some of their past utterances, resort to saying, “I never said that, I was quoted out of context”. Stating this, the individual is quick to articulate a context which completely shifts the meaning of what he /she had said.
The dictionary meaning of Context is ‘the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement and idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed’.Said another way, Context is something which interweaves into a situation to provide meaning. While we may not be conscious when we look at a situation, there is always a context that we hold that generates for us the sense that we make of what we see. A situation in a vacuum is apt to lose much of what it might mean or imply for us.
How a context can shape the way of being and actions of people is wonderfully portrayed in “The Life of Brian”, the 1979 British Comedy film. Tired of masquerading as a phony messiah, Brian tries to run away from the crowds following him and loses one of his shoes in the process. To the crowd however, the context is one of ‘every word and action of Brian is a point of doctrine’. The accidentally lost shoe of ‘Messiah’ Brian is held up as such. This is humour and satire at its best!
As I start distinguishing the contexts in my own life, I see a particular situation playing out repeatedly.
Whenever I notice someone, be it a family member, relative, office colleague etc. not doing it ‘my way’ or voicing disagreement about my way or style of functioning, I feel that the person is actually trying to prove me wrong , undermine me, not giving me the respect which I deserve etc.
I thus see all such situations from a context of ‘Disagreeing with me implies proving me wrong, undermining me, disrespecting me etc’.
As I hold this context, the situations occur for me negatively. This negative occurring impacts my mental state, emotions and thoughts as also the actions I contemplate. So how do I react? I tend to lose sight of the big picture. I justify myself by knit picking on the right or wrong ways of doing things from my perspective. I get down to micromanaging and in my anxiety to enforce, end up in confrontation, acrimony, blame game and what have you. So even though I started trying to get something done, I have really ended up fanning dissent, demotivation and unworkability.
I can see now how my context has been using me. How, time and again, it puts me on rails and makes me react in a predictable, disempowering manner. How my reaction gets based on how the situation, shaped and coloured by my context, shows up for me.
So if my context uses me thus, can I shift away from it to avoid my disempowerment and failure to get the job done?
I am left wondering about what kind of practices I need to adopt to shift away from disempowering contexts to empowering ones for myself……to be continued…….
In learning……… Shakti Ghosal