Getting the context wrong

Why_We_See_Beauty_2012_03.04.12One of the most common sources of “blind spot thinking” (my term) is not understanding the context — the circumstances — within which an action is taking place.

Here is a comical example: A man is walking from his cell on death row to face a firing squad. He lights up a cigarette. Someone watching says, “Hey! You shouldn’t do that. You’ll get cancer.”

Will he get cancer? No, his circumstance will not permit it. Did the person making the comment think of that? No. That person was engaged in blind spot thinking — he or she was applying their own circumstance to the condemned man’s circumstance.

Here are some other examples:

o US church volunteers travel to a remote area in Africa to build a medical clinic. They spend a month there doing construction work, and assemble a fine looking building. The locals are oh-so grateful and blow kisses to the volunteers as they head home. But… there are no health care people in the area who can man the clinic, so it is abandoned.

o An anti-smoking group supports an anti-smoking campaign because smoking causes cancer. They do this in Angola, a place with an average life expectancy of 40 years.

o A wet-behind-the-ears soldier salutes an officer in a front-line sniper zone, or the converse: doesn’t salute an officer in a rear area. Either way he’s being wrong for his context and he will get called up on it quickly.

A cultural summation of this is a 1970’s folk song. Here is the chorus:

Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

Joe South’s song “Walk a mile in my shoes“, 1970

One concept Joe misses in this song — beyond abusing, criticizing and accusing — is aiding. Offering help needs to be just as context-sensitive as all these other activities. If not, the good intention will produce results as harmful as the ignorant intentions — it will be, in fact, just another ignorant intention.

Circumstance-insenstive blind spot thinking is quite common, and it powers a lot of what I call “goat sacrificing” — spending a lot of money, time and attention on a cause, but getting no good results… other than the giver sleeping better at night.

 

 

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