The Importance of Context
Every now and then, I like to discuss pro wrestling with the folks on Reddit's "SquaredCircle" community. This morning, in a discussion about a big match scheduled for Friday's show, "Rampage", featuring a visiting competitor from a Japanese promotion, I read this comment:
So, let me get this straight: People complain all the time about Rampage not getting big matches, and when we finally get a big match people complain that it shouldn't be on Rampage?
IWC is weird.
Viewed alone? Yes, those are contradictory ideas.
Nothing should ever be viewed alone.
Not, at least, if a person hopes to understand. The prolific speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison, for all his faults, regularly and loudly shouted to the world at large:
Everybody has opinions; I have them, you have them; and we are all told from the moment we open our eyes that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.
Well, that's horse puckey, of course. We're not entitled to our opinions. We are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it's nothing, it's just bibble-babble. It's like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks.
These words, when I first came across them, lodged themselves irretrievably in my heart. My spirit flies forever in their wake.
The current world, and societies small and large throughout, fight assiduously to convince individuals that understanding is not required for action to be taken. I couldn't confidently tell you whether it began with evangelists, with politicians, or with some other, possibly older collection of people; I can say, with the fullest confidence, that anyone who would tell you to act without understanding is leading you astray. They are taking your hand and pulling you down a trail that ends in a place of their choosing, where your available options are "the one that goes against all you feel is Right" and "the one they want".
Nothing in this world can be divorced from its context. Your deciding what to have for lunch can't be divorced from its context. You have desires and preferences; you have a set, distinct number of options available; you have personally-known abilities and energy; and all of these elements are compared to, contrasted against, aspects like the time you have to successfully choose, procure, and actually eat that lunch, the impact any choice may have on successfully discharging the day's remaining responsibilites and pursuing your preferred leisures and projects. They're held up to your understanding of your greater health, then balanced against your longing, all to discover which has more weight in that moment.
And that's fucking LUNCH. You cannot run from, hide from, or otherwise avoid context.
Yet that's what so many people encourage. They place a statement in front of you, acting as if it appeared new and complete, like Athena springing from Zeus's forehead. They demand you forego context and simply agree, disagree, NOW.
Each time you drink this poison draught, you can do actual harm to this world and its people. You might keep the dollar that would have given a person food. You may prevent the filling of a pothole that causes a car crash, killing parents, sentencing a child to years of neglect. It's not just possible, but probable that you, reading this – YOU – are, right now, unwittingly responsible for the deaths of a dozen people or more.
On top of all that? You might have convinced someone else to drink from the same cup. Nothing stands alone; your choices and actions influence, for good or for ill.
I'm not immune. My Harlan Ellison quote up there? It was important that I note he had faults. If I didn't, I'd be tacitly approving a slew of poor decisions like intimately touching people without their consent, or responding to criticisms by attacking his critics' appearance instead of their ideas. No one fully avoids choosing poorly. No one floats through the world, harming nothing, leaving no trace.
We cannot fully understand every context and background, every influence and motivation, and that is not what I ask of you, reader. What I'm asking – the ideal towards which my soul flies – why, it's simply that we try. For each other, for our own souls and sanity, that we take even a moment in our lives to read. Investigate. Ask. Having asked, listen. Knowing we cannot achieve perfect understanding, I ask myself each day, as I ask you now, to at least look to see if a letter is part of a word; if that word is one in a sentence; if that sentence belongs to a larger idea.
Then can opinion be formed. Then can action be taken. Then can we gauge whether a greeting, a joke, a complaint to a friend, a chat with a co-worker will help or harm, whether assistance or argument might be the step towards a future in which we want to live.
So! To that exasperated Redditor above, and to all of you, I say this:
Yeah. Nearly any set of statements can seem absurd if you disingenuously portray them in a vacuum, unconnected to their own fucking cause and effect.