More On Context

You live your life within the bounds of place, time, expectations, resources, and relationships. Context is usually hard to see unless you work hard and think about it. There is a reason context is hard to see, and we can find it in a thought from philosopher and historian Will Durant.

“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happens on the banks.”

The problem with understanding civilization today

Newspapers, TV News, and the internet find civilization boring. There is no story of civilization in any media because boring doesn’t sell advertising or induce clicks. Exciting sells. The old newspaper idea is “If it bleeds, it leads.” It’s still true.

Is it any wonder people don’t understand what is important? Look for ideas that elude common sense. Well-funded police are on the banks of the stream. That’s why it is boring. Very little happens there because bad things are discouraged. They may be imperfect but perfection eludes us all. partly because we don’t know exactly what perfection is. When done right civilization has a boring look. A police officer I know told me police work is 99% boring and 1% too exciting. The 1% is the only thing you find in the media.

Left to their own devices, people get most things right. When fed bad information they are helpless. Knowing nothing is better than knowing omething that is wrong. When you know nothing you can still be right by accident.

Adjusting your search for context

Given the media follows their business plan and you seek truth and meaning, you’ll have to look where they don’t. Watch for people with standards. people helping others, often with no recognition, the occasional random act of kindness, a polite and interesting young person. The markings of civilization are everywhere, but we don’t always notice.

We are too busy to notice and wait for the news to interrupt. Work, home care, children’s activities, a little exercise, and very little recreation consume our observation space. It takes serious effort to see the commonplace. Think about how photography works. A client once told me, “Photography is the art of seeing.” If you cannot notice the image you cannot take the photograph.

The bits to take away

Learn to notice the civilization that goes on around you. There is much good there and noticing it makes your life more successful.

Look for the good. No one will deliver it to you. It’s there and you can find it merely by noticing.


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software startup, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning and business matters. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Federal Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

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