The power of context

The other night I bumped into a retired customer of ours. I was carrying three pizzas and listening to a podcast in one ear when a man opened the door for me and asked how I was. My quizzical look told him that I didn’t recognize him right away. Once he told me his name, my mind made the connection. In the context of the customer’s building, I would not have had that problem. This shows how important context is.


In the context of journalism, accuracy refers to getting the details correct. In archery, it means hitting the middle of the target. In manufacturing, it means the machine creates parts with dimensions matching the design drawings. In metrology, it means having minimal variation from a standard. This one word takes on different meanings depending on context.


A reliable journalist is one who shows up consistently and does their job. A reliable archer practices on a set schedule and doesn’t miss events. A reliable machine produces parts, often day and night, without stopping. A reliable gauge measures consistently from day to day and operator to operator.

Meet the teacher out of school

The comedian Larry Miller has a joke about meeting teachers after you’ve graduated, and still referring to them as “Mr. Cooper” instead of by their first names. Sometimes, context stays in place even after the circumstances have changed.

My wife works in a daycare and teaches in her church. There have been times where we’ve been in a store and one of her current or former students has bumped into her. They get that same “Where do I know you from?” look that I must have had. In a classroom, they know who she is. In Target? Not so much.

I see these situations as a reminder that context plays an important role in how we see the world. Keep that in mind when interacting with people. They may come at a situation with a different context, which can lead to some conflict.

photo credit: duncan via photopin cc