Content Vs. Context
It's not what you say, it's how you say it.
Posted December 7, 2009
Our state of mind can affect our ability to thoroughly grasp or totally misconstrue a situation. Psychologists say that we tend to project or filter experiences based on our past fears, hurts or insecurities. Imagine taking a group of kids from various parts of this country and placing them in a classroom seated at desks and blind folding them. The test will be to watch their reaction to a car backfiring from a busted muffler in the parking lot below.
Some children will simply flinch if they live in an industrial town. For those who live in a bustling urban setting, you may see a flinch and a turn in the direction of the sound. In the case of a child who lives in a high crime, gang infested neighborhood with nightly drive by shootings, you may see them pull off the blindfold and dive to the floor looking for cover. Do you see how three people can process the same content from a completely different context?
For others the results need not be as dramatic to be as sustaining. We can completely misinterpret the appearance of a situation and allow this misunderstanding to ruin our day. An example would be the occasion that you were at your employer's Christmas party alone because you and your spouse just had the argument of the year. So you find yourself standing alone in a corner and see various co-workers staring in your direction with a slight grimace. You assume the whole world is against you at this point. Little do you realize that the artwork you chose to stand in front of depicts holocaust survivors and their scars. In this case the content is all the suspicious eyes looking at you in judgment, but the context is they don't even notice you, but their disapproval is of such an atrocity being used as artwork.. Do you see how our minds can play tricks on us?
Now lets have you walk away from this room and down a hallway to the restroom, on the way there you pass your assistant whom you barely recognize because you are consumed in your self projected melodrama. The fact that your grimace and cold response greeted them instead of a smile could very easily set them off as well; except your assistant is aware of your marital woes and understands the context of your coldness toward them. They now in turn choose to pay you extra kind attention instead of demonizing you and continuing the chaos.
Jesus used poetic a form of storytelling called parables when explaining a story because He wanted people to slowly understand the figurative expression of a definition. To really understand Jesus you had to literally take a moment to digest the layers of His teachings. Every word had purpose. When He spoke to Nicodemus, the scholar in (John 3:1-21) the content was figurative but the context was literal. Jesus said that unless a man is born of water and spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Basically Nicodemus, the teacher was taught a lesson.
We can benefit from this same lesson by carefully looking at the context of the content we experience everyday. Take careful notice of the way someone is saying something. Is the hurtful critique being given in the context of love and care for your well being? Is the compliment being said with a sneer and the bite of sarcasm? When faced with the ominous battle of Context vs. Content, take a moment to put down the boxing gloves or the tissue box and ask God to sharpen your spiritual senses. You may realize like Nicodemus that God wants you to be saved by the context, not buried alive by the content.