Wednesday, January 5, 2011

We are always in a context

Thread:                             Context  
Previous related entries:    12/17/2010 “Context is the matrix of meaning”

I think of the contexts in which we function as one way the human organism uses its considerable resources to organize learnings from past experiences… and apply those learnings to navigate similar circumstances in the present… in a way that is on behalf of well-being now. 

Some things we are born knowing…
We are born knowing to hold our breath underwater, a knowing that is held in our inherited intelligence compliments of our brand new nervous system. In the context of being underwater, our nervous system (but not our cognitive intellect) enacts an appropriate response: We hold our breath.

Even when older, we find it impossible to willfully inhale (without an airline) while submerged in water. We don’t consciously hold this context to benefit by it; a more accurate description is to say the context holds us. 

…other things we learn as we go
As we grow, we learn to recognize other circumstances and to associate sets of possible responses with each circumstance.

For instance, along with learning to recognize a spoon, we learn how to grasp it, which way is right-side up, and how to use it as an eating tool (rather than as something to hit stuff with or make an adult pick up when dropped on the floor). Throughout life, when we recognize a spoon, we access our knowledge about how to use a spoon and what we can do with it. Of course, we aren’t burdened with sorting through our knowledge about spoons when we use one—all that reliably takes place under the hood.

Along the way we learned to recognize sidewalks, that streets are primarily for cars, that being hit by a car is bad, and that sidewalks are safer for walking than streets. When a bit older—and in the context of these learnings—a walk down the middle of a seldom trafficked neighborhood street might be experienced as a low grade act of daring. Without conscious awareness, throughout our life, when in circumstances that include sidewalks, streets, and walking, we access our relevant knowledge of such things and behave accordingly. Viola! Another instance of context is the matrix of meaning (and response). 

This learning of distinctions, categories, and circumstances—of forming contexts in which we make meaning  that allows us to navigate the world—goes on and on; it is the business of growing and developing.

Some things we learn awarely, and much we learn unawarely
Although we may be aware of what we are learning and that we have learned, much learning is accomplished without our conscious notice. For instance, we may have been aware of learning to draw the letters of alphabet; but few of us were consciously aware of learning (much less how we learned), as children, to build The Story Of Who We Are. This we learned, in large part, from how we were treated by others. We also learned—seemingly by osmosis—how to be in relationship by being with our parents as they interacted with each other and with others. 

All these learnings form the contexts from which we make meaning and respond 
At any given moment, although we may be consciously aware of some aspects of our current context, it is my experience that we spend much of our time making meaning and acting within contexts of which we have little or no conscious awareness.

This is certainly the case when we use a spoon or a sidewalk, but it also includes the functioning of contexts in which we find ourselves enjoying (or not) the company of people we find physically attractive, or enjoy public speaking (or not) and socializing (or not), or feel chronically good about ourselves (or not), and a whole host of ways of being and responding about which we might tell ourselves “that’s just who I am.” 

Contexts shift in response to circumstance
We each harbor a unique and richly layered weave of contexts—some we are born with, some we learn either awarely or unwarely in the course of our life experiences. Now, like a jukebox that holds our own extensive selection of favorites, when we recognize familiar circumstances, we access the associated context, and make meaning in a particular way that includes a set of familiar responses from which we choose. 

All these contexts and knowledge are resources…
Most of the time this is a great thing—without conscious management, much of our structure of contexts and knowledge functions as a deep resource on behalf of our well-being and interests.

…unless they’re constraining 
Of course, some of our old learnings are no longer relevant to our current circumstances and are, as a result, constraints. When obsolete learnings function outside of conscious awareness, we feel like there’s nothing we can do about it—again, “that’s just who I am.”

More about this in subsequent blog entries.

1 comment:

david said...

It's worth mentioning the infinitity of possibilities of "context manufacturing", that is, inviting a client to behave, think, feel "as if" (1)it is 6 months from now, or(2)the problem is gone, or(3)you are taller than the problem-or smaller,or(4)you have received a letter from your older, wiser self. All done on behalf of learning something that's relevant to your interests.