Friday, May 15, 2009

Out of Context

If you think you are who you are no matter where you are, then I would suggest you've never been far enough out of context to know the difference. The meaning of everything is shaded by context - sometimes completely changed by context.

For example, if you have been a part of or associated with a majority of some kind (e.g. majority race, majority religion, economically powerful) and then find yourself as the minorty race, minority religion, or economically weak for an extended period of time, there will be stress. Although your character and personality may initially be in tact, you will find that the world around you no longer responds "like they are supposed to." Through a consistent strings of similar experiences you may find your jokes aren't funny anymore, that your assumptions about everyone apply pretty just to you, that certain language is forbidden, certain values scorned and other values lauded.

In this new and strange context, no one is going to tell you, "hey because your context changed, here are all the things that you are going to have to deal with." No, it is not that simple. And in general, no one really knows enough about it or you to be able to tell you much about what to expect. And frankly, if someone did tell you, you'd probably be offended. And because that is the case, you'll feel alone, isolated, and sometimes you'll feel insignificant.

It may take a long time to realize that this context you are in exists for real and is not going to change all that much because you are a part of it. Not only does it take way more strength to define yourself when you are out of context, but the very act of self-definition may incite the context to exert pressure on you to stop your act of self-definition. You will feel the extent to which your old and familiar context assisted your identity and how much this new context wears on it.

On the other hand, you may notice it right away, each assumption, each response, each custom - all different (wrong?). It may be obvious to you how impossible the task to single-handedly changing the context is. You may give in and change yourself, you may hole up in cloistered existence - who knows? Whatever the case, you cannot just be you in the way you were you when your context helped you be you. You are going to have to be a new kind of you.

And therein lies the rub. How can you be you differently than you were you? What about you must be marginalized in order for you to count in this new context? What must you lay down, hide, let wither in order to be found acceptable in this new place? What conversations can you never have again becasue you have arrived here? Which of your common expressions are now found obtuse or ecentric? What perfectly normal feelings make no sense to have here? How much of you can be lost while you remain yourself? Or ar you still you at all?

The power of context is immense. And, when you are in your context, that power is practically invisible. When you are out of context, its power is highlighted in blinding fashion - impossible to ignore. People whose lives are highly privileged live in their context always. If they recognize there is another context at all, they have the power not to be in it. People who are underprivileged live out of their context - inside someone else's power structure. They do not have the power to live in their own context. Or, they may not believe that they even have a context relevant to their identity.

If all there was to Heaven was that everyone genuinely treated each other like they belonged, that they mattered, that without them this place would be worse off, wouldn't that be enough?


Steve said...

Getting out of ones normal context can be stressful but it can also be enlightening. It can help a person find out more about their self and culture.

Caroline Bradi said...

Very interesting! I was wondering if anyone can help me regarding I am really new and want to learn more... any suggestions...


Caroline Bradi said...

Very interesting! I was wondering if anyone can help me regarding I am really new and want to learn more... any suggestions...