Building a Common Understanding

The importance of context is demonstrated daily. George Lakoff writes brilliantly about the “framing” of an issue.1 But to me, a story from one of my favorite spiritual writers, the late Henri Nouwen, demonstrates the quandary and the importance of context to those who are listening, but who have no experience themselves. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, mystic, and teacher. One of his works, The Genesee Diary, recounts his experience during a seven-month sabbatical inside the cloister of the Trappist monastery at Genesee. For the monks, there were no newspapers, television, or other means of finding out what was going on in the world. Only the proctor (in this case, Father Marcellus) was privy to the New York ...

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