Consider Context [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It’s an idiom. A turn of phrase. When push comes to shove. The moment when a decision must be made. Look it up and you’ll read that the expression carries a connotation of escalation. Shoving is more aggressive than pushing.

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation.

Like all idioms (or all words, for that matter) context is everything. We saw this phrase on a billboard. It is a campaign promoting civility at a time when civility seems in short supply. We liked it and thought it would be a good quote for Merely-A-Thought-Monday. Context: Civility.

Google the phrase and you’ll discover the disease that plagues us. Namely, the lack of capacity to consider context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to recognize context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to consider a context that differs from one’s own. The top of your Google search will reveal a rage of opposition to the billboard promoting civility.  Shove harder. “…so basically they’re telling you let the son of a b$&@? push you around…”

Wow. It’s an idiom. Context: Civility.

To be fair, a scroll down the Google chain includes motivational stories, a dance piece by Twyla Tharp, more links to PassItOn.com images and tv spots, a song by The Grateful Dead, a lyric by Rascal Flatts. A festival of differing contexts and usages of this phrase when push comes to shove.

Here are a few other idioms: where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When the chips are down…, When the dust settles…, When in Rome…

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation. Context matters.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIVILITY

 

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Put It In Context [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Context (noun): the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

I love this photograph. It could be of the salt flats. It could be desert landscape. It could be the arctic snows. Absent of context, how can we know?

The headstone of the 21st century will read ‘Taken out of context.’ I was a teacher when the internet first washed over the land and the question on every educator’s desk was this: how do we teach students to discern what information is valid and what is not? Education is, at least partially, the pursuit and discernment of what is true and what is not.

Discernment (noun): the ability to judge well.

In a world in which any one can post anything about any topic in service to any agenda, void of context and with an astounding expectation of 280 characters or less, how do we judge well? No attention span available. No context necessary. Discernment is out of reach. As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  (Yeats, The Second Coming)

Context avoidance and manipulation is not unique to the 21st century. It’s been around since the invention of preachers and politicians. We simply have the tools to amplify it and glut ourselves on the fat that remains.

‘Taken out of context’ comes with a cold surgical sister phrase: after the fact. They knew after the fact. He was an accessory after the fact. It was only after the fact that they saw what was there all along.

fact (noun): a thing that is known or proved to be true.

How do you know or prove something to be true? It is the same question educators faced so long ago: how do we discern what information is valid and what is not? Well, begin by slowing down enough, care enough to place the thought, idea, opinion, data, in its full context. Conviction, ideals, truths…all of these lofty words, have meaning and value, become grounded, solid, and meaning-full – in the presence of context.

(The photograph was taken from a ferry cutting through the surface ice at Death’s Door).

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pull the camera down and this is what you see

 

read Kerri’s blog post on ICE LANDSCAPE

 

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Reach The Other Side [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Nope. This is not a political comment. Though it could be. Context is everything though I couldn’t blame you for assuming this is a statement of ideological division. Simple statements are rarely friendly in divided environments. They are meant to reinforce the division, to broaden the divide. We are inundated with divisive simplicity. We are drowning in out-of-context sound bytes.

No, this saw concerns the simplicity of survival. It’s quote from an episode of Life Below Zero. Sue lives above the arctic circle. She measures and ties guide ropes on to  her buildings so she can find her way around her compound in white-out conditions. If she reaches the knot in the rope – a knot that marks the exact distance to the door she seeks –  and hasn’t yet reached the door – she knows she must hang onto the rope and scribe an arc. Left is always left. Right is always right. The door will be there. If it’s not, if things go awry and she can’t find the door, she can follow the rope back to the safety of the place she just left.

Sue is a font of simple maxims born of the harsh necessities of her environment. Her rope is a statement of preparation. Her rope ups her odds of survival. No rope, she dies. Her simplicity is not ideological. It is necessary. It is meant to cross divides, to help her reach the other side.

On second thought, maybe this is a political statement after all. Or, perhaps an appeal in our harsh environment. Maybe Sue will come down to the lower 48 and teach us how to use a rope and give us a few simple suggestions for how to reach the other side.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LEFT AND RIGHT

 

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