Why Context Matters

image_1In August 2011, for sale the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., was unveiled to great fanfare. The site is stunning. But its opening was met with a minor controversy. A quote by King featured on the memorial was, in the eyes of many, not accurate. The initial inscription read: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” In reality, the line is actually a shortened version of a longer statement.

The full quote is from a speech King delivered in Atlanta on February 4, 1968:

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

According to reports, the shortened version of the quote was chosen by the memorial’s architects to save space. However, there are several differences between the snippet on the memorial and the full version. Most obviously, the shortened version isn’t accurately excerpted from the full quote. It’s a combination of multiple sentences. By our standards, that alone would be considered unacceptable.

But there’s also another problem with the quote in question: it undermines the point King was trying to make in his speech. When the King memorial opened in August 2011, Rachel Manteuffel of the Washington Post explained why this is the case:

This comes at the end of a long and powerful sermon. The speech, called “The Drum Major Instinct,” is about the desire in the human spirit to be great without doing any great, difficult things. To be at the front of the pack, drawing all the attention. This is folly, King says. And then, right at the start of the words at issue, he says, “if.” If ?you want to make me a drum major, then say I was a drum major for justice.

An “if” clause is an extraordinarily bad thing to leave out of a quote. If ?I had to be a type of cheese, being Swiss is best.

As author Maya Angelou told the Post of King, “He had no arrogance at all. He had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”

Stripped of its context, the quote—which word for word, wasn’t accurate—didn’t capture King’s truly altruistic spirit. And that was a problem. Recently, sculptor Lei Yixin removed the quote from the memorial. (As of mid-August, the full repair was not yet complete.) The change was an expensive one. According to the Associated Press, it cost between $700,000 and $800,000.

From the outset, the well-intentioned creators of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial likely would’ve been best served not truncating the quote. After all, sacrificing historical accuracy—even while faced with a space crunch—can be a tricky proposition. Usually, it’s not a risk worth taking.

Photograph © Jamal Rice

What’s it like working remotely? Our staff weighs in.

Working From HomeRecently, malady we wrote a post about what it’s like to work remotely. We thought it might be interesting for you to hear from our staff members. So here are some of their experiences.

Clare LaVergne
What I like about working remotely: It’s a tie between the flexibility of hours and avoiding rush-hour commutes.

What I dislike about working remotely: Being alone at home most of the time.

Carol Stroud
What I like: Making my own hours is great since I’m not a morning person. And I love not having to commute; I do not miss Metro.

What I dislike: I haven’t established a structure for my day, prescription so I’m left feeling that my workday has no real end. And I miss having people around to talk to.

Mike Owens
What I like: Not having to worry about a morning commute to an office and evening commute home.

What I dislike: Hmm. Oddly, treatment I had to think about this one for awhile. I guess the default answer is lack of contact with colleagues, but that’s not really it. It’s related to it, but it has more to do with not getting a sense for the kinds of things others are working on and getting a sense for the bigger picture of our work.

Sidney Brown
What I like: I’ve been working from home full-time for eight years. Recently I’ve become willing to learn new technologies and to find the answers to my own computer related questions online.

What I dislike: I hate filing; I have to be more disciplined with a home office or my personal piles and my work piles can get all jumbled together.

Frank Millikan
What I like: I like the convenience of not having to commute to work on a daily basis.

What I dislike: I don’t like not having the option to go into work—to get out of the house, to see colleagues, to vary the routine. In short, the social isolation is a big drawback.

Laurie McClellan
What I like: Saving two hours a day and tank of gas a week by not commuting.

What I dislike: Snacks never appear magically on my kitchen table, the way they did at the office!

Paula Mashore
What I like: The best thing about a virtual office is being able to work from any remote location with a good Wi-Fi connection…whether that’s from home, a coffee shop, or while visiting parents on the other side of the country.

Another “best thing” is being able to construct my own work space, which includes regulating the temperature, opening a window, sitting in a room with lots of light, privacy for work calls, and communicating with colleagues for work and occasionally for pleasure on gchat, in lieu of creating or enduring a lot of office chatter.

What I dislike: The hardest thing about a virtual office is figuring out how to efficiently replicate some of the support features of a traditional office, things like: Do I need a laser printer or is my HP going to be sufficient? How often will I need to order which supplies from our office account? Where will I go to shred the confidential materials I create? How do we create expense reports with our new on-line system? How do I best work with our tech people when I have issues with our databases or my computer?

The ups and downs of working remotely

Working From HomeIn late February, capsule Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made waves by changing her company’s policy on telecommuting. Remote employees, reported Kara Swisher of All Things D, would soon be forced to work at the web giant’s headquarters. Inside Yahoo, it was not a popular decision. In fact, an irked employee even leaked an internal memo written by HR head Jackie Reses to Swisher. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” it read. “We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together.”

It’s an interesting theory. But I’m not sure that it holds water. Over the past few months, PhotoAssist has been adjusting to life without a physical home base. In late January, we moved from an office that we occupied for a decade into a virtual space. Save for special occasions, meetings are held by conference call. People sometimes meet to work in small groups, but most of us spend our days at home, at our desks or kitchen tables.

Even though I’d worked remotely a great deal in the months leading up to the switchover, it was still odd knowing that there was no longer a central hub at which we could congregate. And some days, you feel isolated. This may sound weird, but human interaction was something I took for granted. You miss it. That said, I’ve come to enjoy the freedom that working from home provides. As long as my coworkers know my availability—Google chat is a godsend—I can run out to a dentist appointment or go for a run in the afternoon. (One PhotoAssist colleague recently mentioned that he enjoys taking midday swims on a regular basis.) Am I more productive than I was when we had an office to report to? It’s difficult to calculate. But my overall morale has improved. After Mayer’s decree, Slate’s Farhad Manjoo wrote about his experiences working remotely:

“When I tell people that I work at home, they usually assume one of two things—that I’m un- or underemployed and just biding my time until I get a real job, or that I possess a monkish, single-minded devotion to work that they suggest is required for successful telecommuting. Neither is true. Instead, I’ve realized that, once you learn how to do it, working at home is superior in almost every way. It allows me to be better at my job and at my life—to be a more productive employee and a not-terrible husband and dad.”

Learning how to do it is the tricky part. Admittedly, I’m still trying to figure it out. Because I have more distractions at my fingertips, sometimes I let my days drag on longer than I should. Then again, the fact that I’m able to, say, go for a half-hour walk after lunch, is quite a perk. And I don’t have to worry about D.C. traffic, which according to a report by Texas A&M, is the worst in the country. In the end—despite Yahoo’s claim that “speed and quality are sacrificed”—the pros of working from home seem to outweigh the cons.

The meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation

Emancipation ProclamationRecently, help PhotoAssist helped develop the U.S. Postal Service’s new Emancipation Proclamation stamp. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History commemorating that historic document along with another milestone in the struggle for civil rights. The exhibit, generic “Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, ask 1863, and the March on Washington, 1963,” opened on December 14 and runs through September 15.

For me, the most striking artifact in the Emancipation Proclamation part of the exhibit was the small pair of iron shackles used on the tiny wrists of children. Nothing else depicts the horror of slavery so vividly as those shackles.

I was also especially moved by a framed portrait of an unidentified African-American soldier in Union uniform posing with his wife and two daughters. The couple, like many former slaves, had celebrated emancipation by formalizing their marriage—an act they were denied under slavery.

The exhibit also features an example of a Sibley tent provided by the military for slaves escaping to Union lines. Also known as “contraband tents,” they could house 10-20 people and sheltered thousands of “self-emancipated” slaves during the Civil War.

For historical context and for making Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation come to life, I highly recommend a visit to the “Changing America” exhibit.

Facts Matter

Words on a PageIf facts don’t matter, clinic then Dewey defeated Truman. No one was living in America when Columbus discovered it in 1776! We’re celebrating because the Ravens scored 1, sickness 000, rx 000 points against the 49ers on Super Bowl Sunday!

By now, it should be obvious where we stand at PhotoAssist. We believe that facts do matter. They matter because they’re the building blocks of opinion. Start with the facts, and the point of view grows naturally.

We’re experts at researching and presenting the facts that you and your customers need to know. The facts, in turn, can inform your creative process so that the end product is the best that it can be.

The guiding principle of our founder, Louis Plummer, was simple: Pay attention to the details, and the rest will follow. In our case, the details are the facts. We help our clients present them in the most meaningful way, whether that’s playful and light or plain and serious.

Between fact and fantasy, there are only two choices. But once the facts are known, there can be a surprising number of ways to use them. Because in truth, the facts matter a lot.