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[ # ] Context matters
May 9th, 2007 under Uncategorized

I happened across this story awhile ago about Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist, playing in a subway:

On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

So what happened?

‘”It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . .”

The word doesn’t come easily.

“. . . ignoring me.”

Bell is laughing. It’s at himself.’

Seth Godin comments (promoting his ideas) this is an example of people not giving the seller (the violinist) “permission” to take up their time. The people have chosen to ignore anything else that is not within their focus. I get more from this story than just permission marketing. I get that context matters.

Wason selection cardsHere is a description of a Wason Selection task:

“You are shown a set of four cards placed on a table each of which has a number on one side and a coloured patch on the other side. The visible faces of the cards show 3, 8, red and brown. Which cards should you turn over in order to test the truth of the proposition that if a card shows an even number, then its opposite face shows a primary colour?”

Well no surprise, I got it wrong, but here’s what I found interesting about the problem:

“By contrast, some (though not all) Wason tasks prove much easier when they are presented in a context of social relations. For example, if the rule “Only people over 18 are allowed to drink alcohol” is tested, most people have no difficulty in selecting the correct subjects (those under 18 and those that are drinking alcohol) that must be tested.”

Context matters. It made me think. Growing up, you’re constantly hammered with ideas about what’s wrong and what’s right. I’ve realised that sometimes it’s easy to make snap decisions but really, most situations are different. I’ve even gone so far as to give up the entire notion of right and wrong. It just doesn’t make sense anymore for me how bad things continually happen to good people. Good and bad have been defined for me by society but I have no doubt that were I to live in another time they would almost certainly be different. I guess that makes me a bit of a moral relativist. That’s why I find the church’s position on absolute morals a bit absurd. If I were to become Christian again, which denomination would I choose? Surely they’re all the same? Then again, I guess everyone is free to define their own set of absolute morals.

Read the Comments

[ # 36 ] Comment from Vaughan [10 May, 2007, 14:30]

These are some deep thoughts here, my boy. It is as you say though. Context does matter! There can be no disputing that point.

[ # 37 ] Comment from Sean [13 May, 2007, 23:42]

Something to consider [while agreeing that context matters], as you grow older, your perception and perspective change as you mature. Your define as right from wrong will most surely change over time? I suppose it would be characteristic of our cognitive free will.

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