Context Manipulation: A Tool Used By Cowards

Context Manipulation: A Tool Used By Cowards

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I began last week’s article with the following:

Context is a word abused by people who lack the courage to advocate for moral clarity.

A few folks in my community asked me to explain my reasons for this statement.

I was referring directly to the leaders of institutions and communities (hello, Harvard, Penn, and Columbia) who justify their utter lack of courage and refusal to take difficult but necessary actions by using the excuse of context dependency

Recently, Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, declared that he was “Happy to see Palestinians break out of Gaza on October 7th.

Once his statement was broadcast to a larger audience, he quickly said that his words were taken out of context.

I’m consumed with the flavor of humanity on display during the congressional hearings addressing the rampant explosion of antisemitism on our college campuses. It was fascinating to watch Ms. Shafik, the president of Columbia University, explain her way through a three-and-a-half-hour inquiry while not using the word “context” even once.

That’s called learning.

In the months between the first hearing when her counterparts, presidents of other “elite” universities, stubbornly and robotically stood by their context-dependent definitions of Jew-hatred (and paid the price for it), Ms. Shafik prepared well and made sure not to abuse the principle of context to explain whatever she is doing or not doing on her campus.

Here is why this distinction matters.

If we decide who to be based on what we think will get us what we want, we will never be at ease in our quiet moments and inevitably lose the respect and trust of those who matter to us. 

The context-dependent philosophy creates the heart surgeon who smokes and the parent who extols the importance of honesty while gossiping in front of her child. It also creates the university president who keeps her job for now but knows deep inside that it’s only a matter of time till the delta between her words and actions leads to her exit.


Video: @aipac | @profgalloway


At this intersection, right and wrong are sacrificed at the altar of moral relativity, and we stand for nothing because we are OK with everything if the context dictates.

This epidemic of context dependence, so rampant in our world today, can prevent clarity—the one goal I’m most often presented with when coaching clients.

People of all ages are desperate for clarity, conviction, and confidence. Context dependency and moral relativity destroy clarity, and promote false confidence.

The next time you or someone else says, “It depends on the context,” ask them, “but does it?”

The truth is that sometimes it does, but often and at this historical junction, quite obviously and with catastrophic consequences, it doesn’t.

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