Contextual Mismatches

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Blaise Pascal

I suspect that it is not uncommon for people to assume that others with similar educational backgrounds, similar accents, equivalent ages and roughly similar clothes have shared world-versions, broadly common aspirations and at least partially shared life experience. This is the starting point, perhaps, of communication. The context within which we may move. If someone is radically different in any of the above, we might be a little more circumspect in our assumed understanding. In the rational world this basis assumption kind of makes sense, it is where we might start. We may assume that there is a match of context according to our presumably shared world-version.

Yet within the set of people with whom we share so much, experience can diverge markedly. At first glance we do not know who has had a breakdown, cancer or a substance problem. We may not know the extremity of their political or religious viewpoints, yet. Because they look and talk like us, the presumption of some similarity goes first. It doesn’t take too much thought to see that the basis assumption will be in many cases wrong. The degree may vary. There may in fact be little common ground at all. Yet this common ground is what people seek. If it isn’t there, we bend observations so as to assimilate it.

Although there may be some erudition to what I am saying, I’ll hazard a guess that my world-version differs markedly from the norm. Though to look at me in Caffè Nero there would be no obvious sign.

To do a gedanken, a thought experiment of sorts, we might consider two scenarios. In the about section there is a very brief bio. Imagine you were, for whatever reason, to meet me.

  1. I tip up in my customary black jeans, jumper and fleece. There is a faint hint of tobacco smoke about me. I cough slightly and greet you.
  2. I tip up in full Buddhist robes, with my hair freshly cut if not fully shaved. I greet you.

By setting the scene for this all I have altered is my dress, yet this alone has set a context for our initial encounter. In this scenario I would still be me. In case 1) unless you were dressed in robes, there would be no apparent contextual mismatch a priori. In case 2) if you were dressed in civvies there would. If you have some prior knowledge of me then the sight of me in robes could cause the immediate and instantaneous birth of kittens, metaphorically speaking.

How might the conversation go in each of these scenarios? Imagine….

What I am getting at is that we may be largely unaware of how markedly world-versions differ between individuals. Yet we assume more commonality than there may be. Is it any wonder that communication, through this veil of assumption and prejudice is so poor, that there are many misunderstandings? Well not really.

Whenever there is a large contextual mismatch poor communication is rife. This is largely because we are trying to fit things into our own world-version rather than explore that of another being. The problem with open-minded exploration is that it takes time. The prize however is deep relationship and greater understanding. Virtually every being on the planet offers us something new, some new knowledge.

If we start from the hypothesis that there may be some contextual mismatch where our understanding may be imperfect and our assumptions not good, then maybe we as a species can improve and advance. If we assume that everyone has to be like us, not only will we be disappointed, but we might blame others for not fitting exactly to the parameters of our world-version. It is not their fault that our world-versions are limited and concrete. If you think about it only a little, if we were all the same the clone-world would be a very boring place to live. Contextual mismatch adds variety and spice to life.