This week, many in the United States will commemorate at least one of two days, Valentine’s Day and the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, its 16th president.
Recently, the United States also marked the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, one of President Lincoln’s most famous speeches (Lincoln, 1863, Nov. 19 downloaded from http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/lincoln-gettysburg-address-speech-text, Feb. 10, 2014). The speech’s length of only 272 words is often cited as one of the reasons it is long remembered. This stands in contrast to the two hour speech given by Edward Everett, considered one of the great rhetoricians of the time. The words of Lincoln’s speech give voice to those who died in battle focusing the attention on the soldiers, not the speech (Widmer, 2013, Nov. 19, downloaded from http://opinionator.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/the-other-gettysburg-address/?_php=true&_type=blogs_r=0, Feb. 10, 2014).
A couple of days later many individuals will celebrate Valentine’s Day. This day is often associated with love, especially romantic love. In a broader sense, though, the day is also about relationships. For most, relationships are a part of daily lives.
What does the Gettysburg address have to do with relationships? Lincoln’s sparse wordage put the emphasis of his speech on the significance of those that had fallen. By doing so, Lincoln pointed to the significance of the battle and its place in the wider context by emphasizing the human connection first and foremost. So, too, we must take time to factor in human / social context when we make decisions that impact one another. There are places for data driven decisions (e.g. clinical trials), but there are also many situations that require a human connection, at least in part, to gain understanding of what should be done.
By doing so, we become more aware of one another’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, and, yes, problems when we step back to look at the heart of the matter. Like Abraham Lincoln’s address, sometimes we need to let the situation, and those within it speak. To do this, we must seek understanding of context.