When I worked for an international publishing company we published many books that were on complex subjects. I was not qualified to write these texts, but eventually I was involved in their creation and often in my early days wrote about them for sales people and the public. I was working with materials from the author and summarizing and simplifying materials so advertising writers could use them.
I got good at this kind of writing and eventually I started working directly with authors. I was working with many brilliant people, but I was guided by an old boss who taught me how to deal with certain complexities. Eventually, I learned that regardless of how complicated a book might be, as a publisher we could add value to our materials if we could insure that readers were aware of the context of the work.
Our readers were highly paid professionals and some would read our books cover to cover, others would skim through them for a few kernels of information. In some case, if say a lawyer who billed out at $500 an hour could get a few sentences of knowledge out of a book that sold for $100, I thought that was a win for us. In some cases, I liked the idea of looking at an entire work and coming up with a kind of executive summary of the work for a first chapter. In that case, the reader would understand the context of the work right from the first pages. It was a simple enough step, although it could take some times to create, but I liked the idea of making something more understandable. I worked on many books that did this and I suppose people got tired of hearing me in meetings talking about the context for a work.
I was doing a little research on a project we are working on when I came across an early children’s book from the 1700s. I was interested in a few lines from the book, but happened to see some reviews of the work from modern readers. One of the first reviews was a blistering condemnation of the work because the author included some reference to “spanking.” So the reviewer apparently felt she had a good understanding of life about 300 years ago and that anyone who advocated spanking at the time could not possibly write a decent children’s book.
I have many children and I am not an advocate of spanking, but I did dole it out a few times. I remember reading that in days when people lived in one room cabins, there was often a large fireplace that a small child might actually walk into. I remember reading that some parents would in some way stick a child’s finger to a flame so they could immediately understand the nature of fire. In my time, we did not have all the safety gadgets available today, so when your child kept making his or her way to say an electrical receptacle and the warning of “no” was getting nowhere, we might just swat the little bugger in the diaper.
Today, my kids who have their own children can make judgements about whether spanking was helpful or not. I don’t believe they will use it often or perhaps ever. But I don’t think they can judge everything that I did based on today’s parenting environment and I think they can make a case that I should not be judging all that they are doing to keep order in their homes as well. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have ideas, concerns, etc., but we do need to take a look at the point of reference or the context.
If you study history at all, you value context. If you don’t have an interest in what happened yesterday, you will probably find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again. That is just how life works.
As a homeowner, there are some things that break and need to be fixed. My problem is when something goes wrong today that went wrong say 20 years ago, I don’t necessarily remember how I fixed it. So I will muddle through things and usually have some success or I will call someone in to fix it. I had a lot of children and I have never been able to just call in the experts every time I run into a problem. But I do envy people who can do that. I think if I ever get to heaven, I will have a house there and things will break and I will be able to take care of everything with a phone call. That’s heaven for me.
We learn from culture, history, and what was done before. I am one of those people who sometimes gets a strong opinion on how someone is handling something, but I always caution myself that I need to look at things very carefully before rendering an opinion. And usually understanding the context helps.
We can’t learn everything from personal experience. Books have been an important part of education process since the invention of moveable type and the printing press. Having been in the book business for decades, I have perhaps more respect for the information we can find in print. At the same time, there are thousands of social media sources of information. I am often amazed at the poor quality the search engines and social pages not only put at our feet, but put in front of our faces. I have to say my parents got a lot less information in their daily newspaper and the TV news, but I believe they received more information with an ethical point of reference and some professionalism.