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  • Writer's pictureAbbie VanMeter

Context | Daily Mindful Moment #11

What is something that happened yesterday that is still affecting you? What is something that happened last week that is still affecting you? Last month? Last year?

Let's talk about the Hierarchy Model...

When we talk about "context," we are talking about many different layers. We can consider the context of our interactions, our selves, our relationships, our cultures, our worldview, and our beliefs. What other "contexts" shape you?

We can gain deeper understanding and awareness by looking at each level of context on its own and then together. For example, perhaps the way you interact with a coworker is shaped by the context of your existing relationship; if you have had a history of conflict with this person it will affect the way you talk about your day with them. Maybe you are more likely to be closed off, not ask follow-up questions, or give short answers. On the other hand, if you have worked closely with this person and have collaborated well and gotten along well, maybe you even get lunch with this person regularly or spend time with them outside of work, you would interact with them in a completely different way. You might be excited to share more details about your day, you might have a genuine curiosity about their day, and you might ask more questions and act more engaged.

The way that you see yourself provides context.

The way you relate to others provides context.

The things that you believe about the world provide context.

The things you value provide context.

The society and culture you live in provide context.

However, not all context is created equal. And which context is shaping you the most in any given moment is flexible. As you go through your day, consider which level of context might be playing the biggest role in each interaction you have.

Here is an example of evolving contexts:

Let's say that you (like me) really value being seen as a reliable person. For whatever reason, this value was instilled in you. Maybe your parents taught you that value, maybe your religion, your peers, or your culture. Whatever the root, it's a value you have now. Imagine that a friend asks you for a favor. You say that you can help, but when the day arrives, you forget, or you are so busy with work that you can't make the time to help, or you are feeling overwhelmed by other things going on in your life that doing one more thing feels like too much. You may be contextualizing this instance using your value of being seen as reliable. You apologize profusely to your friend and feel guilt about not being able to follow through. Let's consider that your friend might have the same values around reliability. Either way, let's say that your friend is using your relationship to contextualize this episode. They know that you have followed through before, they know that you are a good friend to them, and they know that you have been feeling overwhelmed at work and at home lately. With this context, they are able to see this episode as 'no big deal.' You can zoom out even more to consider different cultural or societal layers of context that might play into this situation for both of you, too.

Ultimately, it all goes back to making meaning. We know that we have a choice is the meaning we attach to the events of our lives (like letting down a friend when you said you would help or simply interacting with a coworker). We can get better at choosing meaning and recognizing it as a choice, rather than just accepting the first meaning that comes to mind when we use the Hierarchy Model to consider the layers of context that shape our understanding of and participation in our social worlds.

What if you letting down your friend one time doesn't mean that you are a horrible unreliable person?

What if the negative feelings you have toward your coworker are keeping you from working well on a team with them?

What if the ideas your culture has about what is "right" and what is "wrong" are limiting your acceptance of other cultures and ways of being?

What if your religious beliefs are getting in the way of getting to know your neighbor who has different beliefs?

Really, the question becomes: What do we let define our lives?

So, what do you define your life by? What do you define your life by today? What did you define your life by in the past? What might you define your life by in the future?

Plus, this doesn't just have to be something you think about in your head; bring others into the conversation by asking open and curious questions about the levels of context that most shape them. You may never have taken the time to consider this before. And they may not have either. Give yourself grace as you navigate this new way of interacting with your social world.

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