Context matters



“Daddy, guess what the temperature of my feet is?!?” Why, I questioned, would my daughter be measuring the temperature of her feet? Had my wife read some pediatric podiatric health journal that connected foot temperature to healthy outcomes in children? My mind was still processing the question as my wife walked into the room smiling. “She means her weight — she’s asking you to guess how much she weighs.”

A couple months ago, I replaced an inaccurate bath scale with a newer model. This one is a sleek sheet of black glass with a single line marked down the center to indicate where one’s feet should go. At the top, concealed behind the glass, is a blue, digital readout. I wake it up by tapping it, the display illuminates, and when it changes to “0.00,” it is ready to let me know how much pizza I overindulged the evening prior. It is a nice model, and it reads weight so accurately that even my bouncy, fidgety daughter is able to get a precise reading … which she did on the morning of her question.

Odd as it may seem to those of us who have been around the block a time or two, nearly 20% of my daughter’s 46 months of life has occurred during the pandemic. Her little brain is growing, perceiving and interpreting a world of masks, hand sanitizer and daily thermometer checks. In this digital age, the displays of her thermometer and the bath scale are nearly identical (except for size); and when that piece of the puzzle is added, it becomes understandable that my daughter thought the scale might be taking the temperature of her two feet. Context matters.

Recently, a few frustrating circumstances have had me pondering context. How is it that two people can experience the same events, yet come away with two very different perceptions? Even now, whether we’re debating the wearing of masks in public, which political candidate is better able to represent our interests or any number of other serious matters, it seems many of us have lost sight of context.

Most have heard the phrase, “perception is reality.” I disdain this phrase as it is Relativism at its finest. Certainly, there is validity to the idea that perception shapes our understanding of reality; however, it becomes dangerous when anyone begins to think that their perception is the only valid understanding of an event, person or thing. Greek philosopher Aristotle, often referred to as “the father of persuasion,” urged a different course. In his work, “Rhetoric,” Aristotle taught that, for any persuasion to be effective, both parties must be open to the persuasion. In other words, one should go into the discussion with a firm conviction; however, that individual must remain open to the possibility that another position is superior. If not, persuasion could be muted, and truth could remain hidden. This art has been lost in the contemporary world.

Jesus tells us He is “… the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). For decades, I’ve posed a question to arguing youth: “How do we learn the truth?” Eventually, someone would answer, “We ask questions.” The German Theologian Karl Rahner taught that to be human is to question — questioning is, so to speak, part of our nature. We should not be afraid to question anything, confident that those questions will lead us to the truth; and the truth is Jesus Himself. Yes, sometimes asking questions of those whose perceptions are different than ours can lead us to painfully realize that some position we hold is incorrect. Some of my greatest learning moments came when a colleague painfully showed the error of my argument, leading to a paradigm shift in a long-held misperception. But context matters, and I would rather be wrong than confidently harm myself or others via ignorance.

My daughter’s adorable misunderstanding might lead her to believe her feet are 37.6 degrees, but a loving parent wouldn’t allow her to hold that position for life. Context matters. Especially in a world that increasingly sees perception as reality. May God grant us the grace to consider the context of difficult matters this fall, question everything, and discover the Truth.