The importance of context

Are you a hot or cold person? Now, if you were posed this question by an associate you might be a little flabbergasted. Perhaps it is the abruptness of the question. It may be interpreted as a slightly personal question, probing into your character, which you may not appreciate because you might not want to be analysed. Perhaps the intent behind the questioning is not certain, and you might be puzzled by what kind of information is being requested from you. After all, the word hot has different connotations. If you were to mention to someone that a third party was hot, you would have to make clear whether you meant you found the person attractive or whether he was having a fiery moment.

Even more possible is the fact that you could simply be asked about your preferences with regards to food or weather. Do you prefer hot or cold food? Do you prefer warmer or colder weather? In both cases, the exact intent was not clear from the onset and hence that was the reason for the confusion.

When we communicate a question or a request, we have to make ourselves concise and clear. Being too brief runs the risk of being misunderstood, while trying to explain ourselves clearly using more words may run the risk of being too waffly and hard to understand. But finding the balance between the two is something that is difficult for most of us, but with experience we learn how to communicate our intent clearly and briefly. Being brief means that there are fewer words for the listener to process, and they can get on with the task of interpreting the meaning.

The importance of context in human communication cannot be over-emphasized but in music the ambiguity is what makes it attractive. The music of Mozart, for example, goes beyond notes and sometimes one has to wonder what the composer is trying to convey. When you listen to a passage of music, you would think, “What specific emotion is being conveyed here?” and you may find it may be impossible to pin it down. But that is the attractiveness that draws us to it.