Saturday, December 02, 2006



Pronunciation: 'kän-"tekst
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, weaving together of words, from Latin contextus connection of words, coherence, from contexere to weave together, from com- + texere to weave -- more at TECHNICAL
1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning
2 : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : ENVIRONMENT, SETTING

NYC has been unseasonably warm this month. Today, December 1, the temperature reached the high-sixties (that's high-teens for you Readers-of-the-Commonwealth). I've found myself strangely annoyed by this warm-spell, and couldn't quite figure out why I've been longing for a temperature drop when I really hate being cold. I then realized that it's all about context. If this was March, or April, I would be praising global warming for bringing us an early respite from Winter. As it is though, it's December, and in the context of the Northeast, we expect December to bring near-freezing temperatures and snow (and fuzzy sweaters and wooly socks).

A few years ago, two of my best friends (Sirrah! and MFD) were living in sin with their respective significant others (who were, to be clear, not each other). Sirrah! really wanted to get married. MFD didn't (but his girlfriend did). When I talked to Sirrah!, I was all, "Dude, WTF? If he doesn't propose to you soon, I will!" (Kind of funny, actually, because Sirrah! and I have long agreed that cohabitation would destroy our BFFship.) However, when I talked to MFD, I had the opposite opinion: "Marriage is overrated! She should just enjoy living (and breeding) with you." It's all about context.
There is a very old Sufi story about a man whose son captured a strong, beautiful, wild horse, and all the neighbors told the man how fortunate he was. The man patiently replied, "We will see." One day the horse threw the son who broke his leg, and all the neighbors told the man how cursed he was that the son had ever found the horse. Again the man answered, "We will see." Soon after the son broke his leg, soldiers came to the village and took away all the able-bodied young men, but the son was spared. When the man's friends told him how lucky the broken leg was, the man would only say, "We will see."
(Source: Yoga Journal)

This story is usually used to illustrate gratitude, but it also helps me to appreciate the value of context. The two concepts are, of course, related, and the point of this story is really that the people, events or things for which we are grateful may depend upon the context in which we experience them.

We can create context, too, and many of us do so regularly, often without even realizing it. When I complimented Brianna's manicure yesterday, she said she loves manicures, but doesn't get them often: "If I always got them, it wouldn't be special." (Manicures in NYC are cheap; getting one weekly would cost about half as much as buying a latte every day at Starbucks.) Bri is creating a context in which she doesn't take a luxury for granted. Similarly, if I want to develop a particular skill, I would do well to associate myself with people who have that skill and from whom I can learn.

I'm starting to realize that one's self can be context-sensitive, too: My context is the set of interrelated conditions in which I exist. The answer to the question, "Who am I?" might vary depending on when, where, why, and how I am at any given moment. However, I think there's a fundamental answer that isn't context-sensitive, one that has to do with core values. There is a me that doesn't depend on any external settings, and just *is*, and the challenge to answer that question at the most basic level is both exciting and daunting. Further, I'm more likely to find that "me" if I put myself in contexts that are nurturing and supportive to those values.

And with that last sentence, I'm pretty sure UFF can now be classified as "New Age."

No comments: