Context is Everything

Today I had the opportunity to remember that “context is everything”. Hurricane Frances continues her slow crawl up the eastern United States. It started raining here in North Carolina yesterday (Tuesday 2004.09.07). This morning my radio crackled with reports of accidents and emergencies. Fortunately, none were in our response area. Then the pager tones sounded. “Squad 86 respond with the local VFD to a one car roll over. One adult and two children confirmed entrapped.”

I arrived just before the rescue truck. The SUV lay on its side in the ditch. The VFD had already set up traffic control and fire suppression. Using standard rescue techniques and tools, “Mom” and the kids shortly walked out of the SUV. Other than needing to by a new vehicle, this story ends happily. But what happened? The Highway Patrol report will include some phrase like “too fast for existing conditions”. “Mom” has probably driven this road most of her life. It’s rained before while “Mom” was driving. But today the amount of rain, the wash over the road and her speed created a new context that “Mom” couldn’t cope with successfully.

“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Like this accident most “interesting events” happen because someone, somewhere, at sometime, loses track of the context. Context involves us and everything we’re connected to. “Involves us” includes our mental models, our world view, and our actions. We started changing at conception. We continue to change until after we die. Along the way, we grow, we learn, we change. Accidents happen when we change, but the “everything else” hasn’t. Learning may create an accident that leads to personal growth. Personal growth might make us uneasy with our current friends.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” – John Donne

“Everything we’re connected to” is the environment we exist in. Our family, our friends, our career, our hobbies, everything with which we come in contact is in a state of flux. If our world view limits how we see things, we’ll create accidents by missing opportunities or reacting to things that aren’t there. If we hold to mental models that no longer apply to our current situation, we’ll be out of context when we act. Behaving like a 10 year old doesn’t work well now that I’m pushing 50.

Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned. -Mark Twain

We need to learn from accidents. Learn about ourselves, our context, how they interact, and how to keep them synchronized.

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