Blog | Personal Finance

The Difference Between Content and Context and the Battle for Your Child’s Mind

When it comes to preparing you children for a rich future, context is king

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Most parents I talk with want the best for their children. They want them to be better off than they were and to have more. In fact, I’d venture to say that most parents want their children to be rich.

Unfortunately, most parents don’t have the financial education necessary to equip their children to be rich, so they rely on the playbooks they were taught. Whether they know it or not, they are operating out of a context that gives their children content that will keep them poor. The worst part is that schools do the same thing.

When it comes to your child’s future, context and the content that flows from it is very important.

But first, let me give a quick definition of context and content.

The difference between content vs. context

Webster’s defines context as “the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.”

It defines content as “a part, element, or complex of parts.”

Simply put, context is the frame by which we see reality and content is the bits of information (i.e., experiences, thoughts, words, actions, etc.) that fill up our context.

In my experience, those that are rich focus on context. Those who struggle financially focus on content.

To help illustrate, I want to use the metaphor of a glass and liquid. For purposes of this lesson, the liquid in the glass represents content. The glass itself represents context.

Traditional education values content

content vs context image

Traditional education views content as king: reading, writing, and arithmetic—these are the most important things to teachers and the school system. They are the water that the schools use. Traditional education does not focus on context: the student. The student is the glass.

My problems in school began when I did not like the content my teachers were pouring into my head. Using our glass and liquid metaphor, the school system was pouring water but I was a pint glass. I wanted something different poured into me (perhaps a cold beer), not water. Other students were fine because their context was a water glass. Mine wasn’t.

My teachers continually told me you have to be good at reading, writing, and math. Every time I objected, saying, “Why am I studying this?” their answers were uniformly the same, “If you don’t get a good education, you won’t get a good job.” That was their context, but they were trying to also make it my context. Unfortunately, many children have their context changed for the worse because well-meaning, but ignorant, adults assume their context is the only context. They then force-feed massive amounts of content related to their context to these children.

I’ve grown to understand that my teachers’ responses demonstrated a lack of concern for my context. They assumed I wanted to be an employee. They valued their content context. They assumed everyone’s context required their content. I did not, and I’m sure many others didn’t as well.

Context, not content, is king

You might have heard it said many times that content is king. It actually is not. Context is king. Context holds the content. Contexts can be visible, invisible, human, or non-human. Context is rich in meaning for people. Context determines the course of your life.

A person’s context includes:

  • Philosophies

  • Beliefs

  • Thoughts

  • Rules

  • Values

  • Fears

  • Doubts

  • Attitudes

  • Choices

A poor person’s context is seen in their words:

  • “I’ll never be rich.”

  • “Money is the root of all evil.”

  • “I’d rather be happy than rich.”

  • “The government should take care of people.”

  • “Spend it if you got it.”

The reason many people are poor is because they have a poor context. In most cases, more money will not make a poor person rich. In many cases, giving a poor person money keeps them poor longer...often forever.

This is the reason why so many lottery winners are soon broke. The same often holds true for sports stars. Because they grew up with a poor context, and thus content that did not prepare them for handling money, they blow through it on things like cars, houses, and clothes.

Context sets the priority for your content

Notice the shift in priorities, values, and words that communicate a middle-class person’s context:

  • “I must get a good education.”

  • “I need a high-paying job.”

  • “I want a nice house in a nice neighborhood.”

  • “Job security is very important.”

  • “How much vacation time do I have?”

  • “Investing is risky.”

People with a middle-class context typically don’t get rich. For their whole life the content they were given was that they needed to go to school, get a good job, buy a nice house, and invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

Context is the frame by which we see reality and content is the bits of information (i.e., experiences, thoughts, words, actions, etc.) that fill up our context.

Every action they take is to reinforce this lifestyle. Many go deeper in debt to “keep up with the Joneses.” Instead of investing, people with a middle-class context just consume more. They buy a bigger house, take nice vacations, drive expensive cars, and spend money on higher education. They like the idea of being rich and they want to look rich, but they don’t have the context or the content to know how to actually become rich.

Since most people buy on credit, they often find themselves getting deeper in debt—bad debt, consumer debt—rather than getting richer.

Context is hard to change

Many people have a very hard time changing their context. This is because context has rich meaning for people. Often people mistake their context for their identity because they were taught it by people they loved. It is made up of some of the earliest and most fundamental lessons we learn in life. Changing your context can often feel like changing the very core of who you are—and in some ways that’s true.

When people with a middle-class context hear, “ There is good debt and bad debt,” their context closes. All they know is that debt is bad and that it makes them poorer. Most cannot grasp the idea of good debt, the kind of debt that can make them richer.

For many of these people, it is best that they simply follow the advice of those who counsel, “Cut up your credit cards and get completely out of debt.” That is the content that their context can handle.

When it comes to investing, most middle-class people have the context that “investing is risky.” That is because most invest in traditional education for college degrees, but fail to invest in financial education.

The context of the rich

The rich have a very different context than the poor and the middle-class. Examples of statements that reflect a rich person’s context might include:

  • “I must be rich.”

  • “I own my own business, and my work is my life.”

  • “Freedom is more important than security.”

  • “I take on challenges so I can learn more.”

  • “I want to find out how far I can go in life.”

Most of these people are true capitalists. Where the poor or the middle-class might see scarcity, they see abundance and opportunity. They know how to us OPT, Other People’s Talents, and OPM, Other People’s Money, in order to get rich. They do not think, how can I do this myself, but rather how can I use the talents and money of others to get rich. They do not see investing as risky and in fact see being an employee as much riskier than investing.

So, for instance, when a middle-class person puts their savings or retirement fund into a bank, the banker lends that money to the capitalist.

This is why my rich dad said, “Context is more important than content.”

A context-rich education provides better content

One reason I had a tough time in school was because I had no plans to be an employee. I wanted to be an employer, an entrepreneur. Every time a teacher attempted to motivate me with, “If you don’t get good grades, you won’t get a good job,” I checked out. My mind just shut off. By the time I was twelve, I had been working with rich dad for three years. I no longer had the context of an employee.

The statement, “You won’t get a good job,” worked on my classmates who wanted to be employees. It did not work on me. My context helped me to seek out the better content for me. By working with rich dad, I got the content my context needed to thrive.

The lesson is this: “Context determines content.” If you want your children to be better off than you are—if you want them to be rich—then you must find a way to not only change your context but to also change the context of your children and their content. You must give them a context-rich education that changes what they find their meaning in.

For instance, if my teachers had said, “I’m going to teach you how to raise capital so you can start your own business,” I would have been all-ears. I would have been sitting at the front of the class. I would have said, “Pour that content in!”

Even better, if your teacher had said, “Not everyone needs to grow up to be an employee. Some can be business owners who employ others. Would you like to learn about that?” I would have signed up for every class.

Today, ask yourself, what is my context? Am I happy with my context? Or do I want it to change? If you want to be rich, you must have a rich person’s context. Same for your children. And that starts with learning what the rich know about money—their financial education.

Original publish date: June 17, 2013

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