Context Makes Us Who We Are

I was up before 4 again, thanks to a gut tied in knots and performing back flips. An hour later, I thought it all had been resolved, but as I sat at my desk, attempting to think coherent thoughts that might make sense on the computer screen, the knots tightened again and offered an encore of flips. I opted to avoid coffee this morning, choosing a big glass of cold water instead. That choice does not seem to have helped much. Cold water had no impact on the beads of sweat on my forehead. I climbed back in bed around 6:30 and stayed there, between off and on trips to the room next door, until about 9:40. I don’t think I’ve been in bed as late as 9:40 since my run-in with lung cancer. Shortly after rising, a friend who hosted a gathering a few nights ago delivered two cans of H.E.B. Boracho Beans, following up on a conversation we had that night about how much I like boracho beans. I may delay opening those cans until my gut’s back flip performance comes to an end. With that as an introduction, I will write whatever flows from my fingers; I suspect it will be short.


Our brains fracture reality, subsequently piecing it back together in ways that blur the distinctions between experience and memory. Our recall is dependably erroneous, as if our minds consistently lie to us about who and where and why we are. But our minds are not telling us lies, not really. They are simply expressing our reality refracted through contextual prisms. I know, that sounds like distraction through verbal pretension; but it’s not. I think it’s the best way to describe how we often misinterpret our experiences, based on the filters and biases through which we see and experience events. If my filters interpret certain words or attitudes or responses as “conservative,” I classify an experience that includes those words or attitudes or responses as conservatively biased. Dispassionately “watching” ourselves go through an experience is, in my view, basically impossible. We frame the experience according to contextual cues. Before we even receive enough information to make an informed assessment, our minds have begun shaping our interpretation of the experience. We think we can be unbiased, nonjudgmental, and receptive to untainted reality; I doubt that. We may want to be able to be that android, but flesh and blood and tissue and cerebral interference refuse to allow it.

That is not to say we’re incapable of experiencing reality as it really is, it’s just a rarity. We learn so much and absorb such a vast amount of information that all the knowledge and processing of facts colors our view through that prism. When I realized Mrs Stephenson, my third grade teacher, had a glass eye, the experience taught me to always peer intently into the eyes of people I meet, checking to see whether one of the eyes is artificial. Once I satisfy myself that an eye either is or is not artificial, I continue about the business of deciding what this person is all about. That simple realization, as a kid, has altered my way of looking at, and interpreting, the world ever since. In the end, it makes no difference to me whether an eye is glass or vitreous jelly. But it does matter, doesn’t it? Somewhere, deep in the recesses of my brain, it makes a difference I cannot identify. If it did not, I would not notice it.

Ultimately, context makes us who we are. That answers a question I’ve asked myself for my entire life. Now that I have the answer, I wonder whether I’ll keep asking the question, thinking there must be some other, more appealing, answer.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Context Makes Us Who We Are

  1. Settled Back at Home says:

    If there is one thing I definitely know about you (although, I know a good many things), it is that you will DEFINITELY get over it!!! 😀

  2. You all were not the cause, nor was my later-than-usual night. Great to see you all, as well. I’m doing reasonably well now, thanks, but I’ll get over it.

  3. Settled Back at Home says:

    Hmmm… I see that you didn’t post anything the day we left your house and now your gut is tied up in knots?!?!?!? Perhaps you shouldn’t have stayed awake for as long as you did Friday night. Then again, I guess we COULD take some responsibility for that… Great seeing you, sir! Feel better!

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