This week I have been thinking about context.

I was seeing Black Lives Matter everywhere. Then I saw All Lives Matter and I instinctively felt that it wasn’t right, but I was unable to quite put my finger on why. I started to think about context and how it affects the meaning of what we say. Out of context, All Lives Matter makes sense because out of context we can afford to be universal. In context, Black Lives Matter is a call to make the world a better place, whereas in context All Lives Matter plays out as an attempt to undermine that call.

Context helps us fill in the words that are missing but implied. Black Lives Matter As Well. Black Lives Should Matter To You. Black Lives Matter Despite You Acting Act Like They Don’t. Out of context you might think of different missing words and imagine the message is Only Black Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter More.

But we’re not out of context, are we?

I think there are parallels here with all sorts of other situations, particularly if you’re in the business of change. Change is always in-context because it deals in a sense of how-the-world-is-now and seeks to make it different. If we’re moving from something that’s not good, towards something that’s better, we need to focus on the things that need to change. Our language needs to focus attention onto those things and the context forms part of what our words mean.

A call-to-arms is never going to be universal or out-of-context because a call-to-arms is always focussed on people who can recognise the problem (and therefore the context) and are usually living with the things that need to be changed. Part of the power of a call-to-arms is the way it involves context in completing it’s meaning. It says, if you understand what we mean by this, then you understand the context.

I also see a parallel with this wonderful Equality vs Equity illustration.

An image illustrating equality and equity using people watching baseball over a fence. (image from

Out of context, it might seem fair to give everyone the same treatment. In context, giving equally doesn’t get us the result we want. We have to approach the problem in context to really understand what action to take.

So that‘s what I’ve been thinking about this week.


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