Building Block: The Need for Context

Person A and Person B are in a room.

Person A pulls out a gun, and BAM!  Person B is dead.

Pretty easy to tell that Person A shot and killed Person B, right?  Not so fast.

While the media might make a leap like that (not exactly, but conceptually), you aren’t allowed to.

We need context for the situation to get closer to the truth.

What if I told you Person B was suicidal, asked to see Person A’s gun, pulled it from Person A’s hand, and then Person B shot themselves?

Changes the whole story, doesn’t it?

Re-read the statement at the top of this post again. Nowhere was it mentioned that Person A actually pulled the trigger.

Also, to throw another wrench in the works, I also didn’t tell you whether (or not) there was another person in the same room as A and B, did I?

This is an oversimplified example of how lacking proper context for a situation can cause a leap to judgment.  This leap to judgment can, like a virus, infect the sphere of knowledge around the situation.

Remember the game of telephone, and how a story gets changed as the game goes on?  A lack of context makes this worse.

(Our human penchant for taking shortcuts contributes to this problem).

Now apply this concept of context to the next news story you see on mainstream (and even some alternative) media.

Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are they leaving out of the story?
  • Why are they leaving it out of the story? (Sometimes points to motivation or bias).
  • Who is the story about (if it is about someone)?
  • How does missing information impact the story?
  • Where does any missing information fit in the story?
  • Finally … is this story really complete?

These questions help to point out missing context … which is a basic building block for finding the truth, and not just in the media stories.  Some of them will be hard to answer at first.  It doesn’t help that you and I are human.

But when you uncover bias, when you uncover a surprising lack of context on a consistent basis … why do you keep paying attention to the source?

We need to be more judicious about the sources we trust. The truth is, very few of the most visible ones are trustworthy at all.

Context is one key to the truth.  More to come.




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