Context Gives Meaning (or the ‘Fat Chick’ Analogy)

(These are a few posts from my tumblr about the timeline project – moving them over here so they’re all in the same place. Some of these are WIP that never P’ed.)

The more we know about someone, the more we are able to understand them.

‘Fat Chick’ Analogy
Imagine I show you a picture of a girl; she is 39 years old. She’s about 5’3”.
She weighs 420 lbs.
She is sitting on a couch at what appears to be a frat house, appearing extremely inebriated.
Her shirt is way too tight and she’s falling out of it. She has a huge smile on her face and her eyes are almost closed.

Based on this one photo you’re going to make some assumptions.
Think about these assumptions; you’re probably basing them on yourexperiences with frat houses, 450-lb people, big smiles, being drunk, etc.
Humans tend to react to things based on what they can relate to.
That’s normal.

Normal, but not fair to that girl.
She is different from you. Her experiences are different and you’re attempting to understand her situation based on 1/125th of a second frozen in time in a photograph.

There is no context to this photo, and without context there is no meaning, and without meaning there is no understanding.

Now imagine I show you a second “before” photo of this girl, taken 6 months previous.
Same girl, but in this photo she weighs 700 lbs.(To drive the point I also show you a pic of her in high school, where she weighed 550 lbs.)

Your reaction to her now is probably different than it first was; you understand why she’s smiling in the first photo. That shirt she’s wearing makes a lot more sense.

Suppose the “before” picture from 6 months ago that I’d shown you was not the 700-lb frame but rather a family photo; in it is this same woman, appearing to be no more than 100-lbs, posing with her stiff and stern-looking husband and their 4 children, the oldest appearing to be no more than 5 years old. Now the drastic change denotes a rapid downfall into what looks like a really sad place.

The more information about this person you get, the more you gain context, which helps you understand her.

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