“Context” is generally defined as “… the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.” (see thefreedictionary.com/context) Taking something out of context often changes a meaning entirely or it can cause one to form opinions that are sometimes not justified. Failing to consider historical or setting context can do just that. Two examples of context came to me this morning.
The first appeared in a Kindle sample book , Jar City, A Reykjavik Thriller, authored by Arnaldur Indridason and Bernard Scudder. In one scene, the main character, a detective, slaps his daughter in the face. I almost deleted the sample at that moment because I consider that to be an offensive and unacceptable in today’s world. But I was not reading about today’s world, and it was not a novel set in the United States. I read on and considered the context. The daughter was an adult and was on drugs. I’m not saying that she deserved to be slapped, but a father slapping his daughter in the face needs to be set in context. And yes, I bought the book and am enjoying it. I discovered it by way of a Schumpeter blog in The Economist entitled Those Bloody Scandinavians – What the Nordic crime-writing boom says about globaliatiosn.
The second thought about context appeared when I went to the grocery store for a bottle of Aunt Jemima‘s syrup for the pancakes that I cook for my wife on Sunday mornings. The image of Aunt Jemima has changed with the context of the times. From racial stereotype to “modern homemaker,” depending on the context.
If you really want to get into a discussion about context, just bring up the Bible. There are numerous instances of traditions, customs and practices that are mentioned that cause consternation today. For example, should women cover their heads in worship? Read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 for reference. Some may say that women should cover their heads, while others say look at the context. I have no interest in getting into a conversation about the subject, but I believe it is a good illustration of context.
In short, when considering controversial statements and issues, consider the context.