Of Context and Confusion
One day you find a book on the floor and decide to open it. The first line you read is:
“Anne saw Klaus approaching her from the distance. She made sure to stay very still as the man walked towards her. When he finally got close enough she stabbed him and killed him.”
In disgust, you throw the book down, wanting nothing to do with such a morally repugnant story. How could Anne be so cruel? Is she a psychopath? Klaus was just walking towards her. Who in their right mind kills someone just for walking?
Suddenly, your friend comes along and picks the book up off the ground saying, “Oh, you’re reading this? It’s a great book!”
You stare at him with shock and say, “How could you think such a horrible thing?! This book promotes murder and psychopaths! You monster!”
Your friend, bewildered by your response, ask why you’re so upset, so you proceed to open the book and point to the passage you just read.
Your friend laughs and says, “No silly, Klaus wasn’t killed just because he was ‘walking’, but because he was a Nazi who was hunting Jews. And Anne is a Jew. She had to kill him in order to survive.”
You respond, “Oh please. That’s such a bad excuse! No where in that passage does it say that!”
Your friend, still bewildered, proceeds to point to numerous other passages in the book showing how the Nazis were hunting down Jews and how Anne was trying to run away from them.
You then respond, “The book should be more clear then! What kind of author doesn’t put the context into every statement? How stupid do you have to be? It’s very obvious to me that Klaus was killed just because he was walking. And now you’re telling me all these ridiculous excuses.”
Your friend tries to explain further by pointing out that context in communication doesn’t need to be explicit in every statement for it to be clear. He goes on to say that Anne was an innocent girl who did nothing wrong and Klaus was a bad person.
You then respond, “What do you mean by ‘innocent’? Huh? What does that word mean in the book? And what do you mean by ‘bad’? Those words could mean anything!”
Your friend stares at you incredulously and shrugs his shoulders. He then proceeds to walk away, contemplating if he should remain friends with such a dense person.