Context: A Canvas for Dialogue

In my constant effort to understand ‘dialogue’ in various areas of life, I have been trying to find the core proponent of dialogue between humans, without which humans would find it difficult to engage in dialogue. This core proponent of dialogue as I argue can be termed as ‘context’. Upon further reflection, I realised that it is the context which gives rise to contents which again is an important aspect of dialogue. Humans are quite successful at conveying ideas to each other and reacting appropriately. This can be due to many factors like the richness of language, the common understanding of how the world works or an implicit understanding of everyday situations, also in many societies dialogue is a vital part of enculturation. In other words, humans use ‘context’ to develop and elaborate their conversations and it is the content that is generated from this context; and when the context is completely disregarded and the content is saturated, individuals lose their point of contact or rather I would say, ‘lack dialogue’.

In its dictionary definition,’[c]ontext is the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood’. Context is all about the ‘circumstances’ relevant to a situation or an application and its set of participants. It can be a cultural context, an emotional context; a psychological context or any other context that the individual would find herself in or choose to operate from.

Interestingly, the content within any given context is often justified. For instance, if a woman moves her body in a wild manner, what would be your first thought? Let’s say an old woman from a traditional culture would say she is possessed by a spirit, a psychologist would say, she is mentally instable, a dancer would say, she is performing a new type of dance or a doctor would say that she is probably getting fits because of some medical condition. I am not sure about what this woman is doing; however, I also cannot deny the statements of these people, as their content is justified based on their context. So how do I find which one is the correct view and reflects reality? The answer is to simply engage in dialogue with the woman and talk to her. Only when I create a context by engaging in dialogue with the woman I can tell these people that she was just doing a stress buster exercise, and then they will shift their entire perception from her untamed movements in the various presumed contexts, to the correct explanation and the reality behind the appearance. This is how context creates a canvas for fruitful dialogue and also generates quality content for exchange. Context also helps in understanding the perspective of the other person, as it lets them sail on the same boat, irrespective of their differences.

Unfortunately, we humans are so engrossed in our world that we take things happening around us for granted, where we create context everyday to generate our conversations even without encountering reality. This often is the base for misunderstandings and unproductive dialogue. I had difficulty in learning science as I often used to lose the context as to why we were doing it. I am not surprised to learn that there are many people who cannot connect to astronomy or astrophysics, for the simple reason that they have no context to understand these branches of science. However, I would not deny that they are positively benefitting from the discoveries and their scientific results, often being at the receiving end.

In a situation where you are in the midst of two hundred people in a conference room where you wish to engage in dialogue and network, here content becomes more important than context, as it is the content that you have to offer in your business agenda that leads to the context for the other person. Knowing the context and content is indeed a powerful instrument in engaging in dialogue with individuals and groups, and every time I feel I am not able to engage in dialogue in the best manner, I pick up my list for context and content and only then I am able to engage in dialogue using its full potential. That is why I argue that any given context is the canvas for dialogue.

Marina D'Costa

Marina D'Costa

Marina D'Costa has done her MA in Anthropology from University of Pune and is currently working in the area of Social and Financial Inclusion in Mumbai. She is associated with youth movements nationally and internationally making contributions in the area of youth formation and human rights.

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