The Importance of Context

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This past week the New England Patriots visited the White House for a visit following their recent Super Bowl win. According to Thomas Neumann of ESPN, the tradition of inviting sports teams to the White House started on Aug. 30, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson first welcomed the Brooklyn Atlantics and Washington Nationals amateur baseball clubs to the White House. The visits to the White House are usually lighthearted and fun, but the most recent visit of the New England Patriots got more coverage than it usually would.

The social media presence that Donald Trump has tends to get him into trouble, and often the reporters who he attacks look for ways to use social media against him. After Donald Trump’s statements about his inauguration attendance as opposed to President Barack Obama’s inauguration, a New York Times photo, comparing the two, flooded the internet. This picture caused a big debate on social media questioning the context surrounding the photo. This week, New York Times Sports’ Twitter account made a point to compare the number of the Patriots players attending this week and the players who attend two years ago when President Obama was President. There was only one issue; the photo lacked context.

Although only 34 Patriots players attended this week’s visit to the White House compared to the 50 two years ago, the emotions behind the post got the best of the writer for the New York Times, and he simply made a mistake. This is an important lesson that everyone should take note of, don’t allow emotions to dictate decisions.

As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, it is human nature to have a desire to feel validated in our views. The past few months have caused the constant battle between political affiliations to heighten and the emotions also attached to rise. This not only has an effect on society but can also have an adverse impact on those who engage in these political debates.

Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale, did a study where he found that people use facts to try to prove their point of view on political issues. Instead of both parties agreeing once facts are presented, he found that the more information partisans get, the deeper their disagreements become. He says that “as a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values… what we believe about the facts, tells us who we are.”

Although facts supported by context might validate our views on an issue, they rarely change someone else’s opinion. As James Madison said, “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

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