contextualizing

Much to Drew’s dismay, I have four bumper stickers on my car.  (His is spotlessly black.)  One is a small Righteous Babe Records sticker on my actual bumper, one, on my spare tire, says “No Farms, No Food.”

Then there are the two right smack at eye level for other drivers.  See for yourself.

In the past six months (of the year-plus that this duet has been playing on my CR-V), I’ve had two different family members misunderstand the message.  One asked my husband, “Is it hard to be married to a Republican?  Doesn’t that make political conversation problematic in your house?”, and this weekend one asked me, “So how does a Republican come to vote for Obama?  What’s wrong with McCain?”

*sigh*

Obviously, this is a problem of cultural context.  In order to understand my take on politics, someone looking at my car needs to understand or be able to infer three things:

1.  I have a well-developed sense of irony.
2.  I have a serious love for saracastic, tongue-in-cheek humor.
3.  The identity of Voldemort.

My second cousins and in-laws might not get the first two, entirely.  I’m pretty well-behaved in public situations, and tend not to unleash my inner kook in inappropriate places, and I tend to label family gatherings as “inappropriate” for said unleashing.  But.  I guess I thought that most of America knows who Lord Voldemort is, by now.  It’s been 11 years since Harry Potter burst onto the scene, and I sort of assumed… well.  There you go.  Assumptions.

So what’s this got to do with you all, you ask?

When was the last time you assumed that everyone in your library, in a staff meeting, in a lunch group, in your classroom, at the reference desk, [insert professional scenario here], understood your conversational context?

Did they actually understand?  And would you have known if they didn’t? And what part of your message, argument, or thought pattern was lost on them because the context was unclear or misunderstood entirely?

I feel compelled to ask, because I have to wonder.  How many conversations go unintentionally awry because we’re not communicating our contexts clearly enough?

** For those so inclined, RfV stickers available here, and Obama stickers, here.  And if the RfV joke is slipping past you, here’s a rather eloquent summary from the 2004 election cycle.

7 thoughts on “contextualizing

  1. Jenica

    Right! And if there are people who don’t know Voldemort, what other things are being missed in conversation that I’d never guess were confusing?! Boggleboggleboggle.

  2. The Husband

    I, myself, can only dimly tell you who Voldemort is: Ralph Fiennes wearing spackle in a bald cap. 😉

    However, if you want to talk about the Ten Who Were Taken, the Azath, Tars Tarkas, or how the No-God wears Chorae like bling.. well, let’s have a beer.

    Your context (and perspective) thoughts above, make me think half-jokingly want to talk about how you just found a managerial application for the Theory of Relativity.

  3. Jenica

    Honey, you don’t drink beer unless coerced. And you know I can make ANYTHING apply to management. It’s my superpower. It’s not flashy, and it wouldn’t really hold up against, say, Superman, but it keeps me entertained…

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