Creating Context

I was recently reading the fourth book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling to my 6-year-old daughter and she asked, “Why are they telling us that his parents were killed by Valdemort and he lives on Privet Drive with his aunt and uncle again? We already know that!” So we talked about the author not knowing if the reader had read or remembered the previous books so she has to cover the same ground again.

This reminds me of blogging. I post my stories and since I know new readers won’t know my daughter is 6-years-old and my son is 2-years-old, I mention their ages almost every time. And then because my stories identify me both as an American and one that at age 52 is unusual to have such a young family, I often explain that I spent my younger years climbing mountains, starting my own company, getting married, divorced and only then having children.

Now I’ve spent a lot of the post just providing context. But it’s necessary in order to create relationship as explained so eloquently by Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist from Yale – “The deep irony, in order to be social, we first have to be individual.” I heard him expand on this idea in a podcast. I have to be identifiable as an individual so that you can differentiate me from other people.

He went on to say that if you put a person in a room of 1,000 people, the idea of cooperating with 1,000 individuals is overwhelming. So humans have adapted two different methods.

First, if you break up the room into 10 groups of 100 people with each group wearing a different armband, then a new individual can identify and attach with a smaller group because it feels do-able.

The second way that we’ve adapted is to make friends. Which we do in part because we have something in common with them. Nicholas Christakis’ work in the field of sociology is about the long view of human history. He’s deeply optimistic about our ability to cooperate, teach others and love because we are one of the only species that does that outside of the family structure.

That brings me back to social media. The idea that I need to be an individual in order to be social. And yet the format doesn’t easily hold the history of my story outside each post and without that history, it is hard for others to identify how we will cooperate and be friends.

I started reading the Harry Potter books to my daughter when she was 5-years-old. It’s my requirement that we read each book before watching the movie. We snuggle up on the bed in our jammies and she curls up beside me, sometimes fidgeting, sometimes not. I’ve discovered that at the ages of my young children, bedtime routines are very rarely about the book. But when she commented that the author repeated herself, I found it reassuring to know that she was listening.

So it’s very nice to meet you – please forgive me if I repeat myself. But it’s nice to know you are listening. And I will listen to any comments you want to leave.

Wynne Leon’s personal blog can be found here.

Follow me on Instagram at @wynneleon

(photo from Pexels)


21 thoughts on “Creating Context

  1. I sometimes wonder if we live in a post-context age. We too often make snap judgements without knowing the backstory. We’re bombarded with disparate factoids and have a hard time making connections or seeing the big picture or even discerning between the truth and disinformation. It really all comes down to speed. In America (and likely other places too), we put a premium on speed and “being the first” and “getting a jump on competitors” and such. Context takes time and requires slowness and deliberation. It requires us to see all the dots so they can be connected. You’ve got me thinking here a lot about all sorts of things. Thanks for a great first post!

    1. Great points, Troy! When we put it that way, it seems like a cycle – we don’t get context so then we start operating without it and then we stop even wondering about it…

      Thanks for the encouragement and support!

    1. Funny – that’s what I thought when I heard Nicholas Christakis say we could break it down to groups of 100. Still seemed unmanageable to me even as I could see his point! I think I tend towards the making friend approach. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Ah, such a beautiful first post for PO😍

    I had never stopped to think about just how significant setting the context is until I read this piece!

    I love how your references ennoble the message!

    Glad to have you on board! I look forward to reading many more of your wonderful writing!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging comment. I’m so honored to be part of this group, reading and supporting your great work as well!!

  3. Societal comment: about having “such a young family,” you’re actually not that unusual. I have a client who is 76 with a 16-year-old, and in fact more than 3 million children in the US live with a grandparent (Census Bureau, April 2021). Another client became legal guardian for his half dozen grandkids when his adult children were busted for drugs. In yet another family, the unmarried daughter died in childbirth, but the baby survived. Guess who’s raising her? Older adults with young kids are common and there are diverse ways to get there.

  4. NO Doubt harry potter is great story. it even not just a story but an emotion which JK ROWLING beautify expressed. thankyou for bringing back the spark for HARRY POTTER.
    thankyou.

  5. I used to find myself explaining what I do every time in a post, but now I only mention here and there because I feel repetitive, and even worse it’s not interesting. It’s a good issue you raise here and I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with it.

    1. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggles with it too! Yes, I feel like blah-blah about my person info too. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. I mention my disability on my blog once in a while, even though I have that information out as part of my About page. I do it to bring understanding and perception to the topic for that particular post.

    This is the first time I have read something from you on Pointless Overthink, so I’m glad you told me something about yourself.

    1. Yes, G.J., this is my first post on PO. You make a great point that we can choose to bring up a particular point of reference when it relates to the topic at hand. Thank you so much for reading, commenting and following!

  7. Hi, nice to meet you! 🥰 Great post — I’m working on the sequel to my first book and while I’m mindful about providing context for it, I often forget that in my blogging. So thanks for sharing and reminding!

  8. Aw what a wholesome post! Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading the Harry Potter books to my future children one day, I love those books (and movies)! I bet your readers appreciate you providing context. It happened to me once that I felt like trying a new Podcast so I searched for ghost stories on Spotify, or something in that genre (my fave), and picked one at random and started listening. The 2 hosts sounded interesting enough, but at one point they started referring to an older episode, providing ZERO context. If it had been a quick reference, no problem. But as they continued to talk about it, for me, being a first-time listener, I became a little frustrated and honestly, I felt kind of excluded. So I just stopped it and found another show altogether. Some context would have made all the difference in that situation!

Leave a Reply