Postal worker’s shorts and missing context

Culture isn’t always as it seems.

We’re in the depths of winter, close to freezing temperatures. Blistering winds and unpredictable drizzle. So why are all the postal workers still wearing shorts?

I’ve often wondered why. Are they just extra hardy? Is there some kind of internal competition and bravery leaderboard, or unwritten postie-code? As silly as it might seem to me, they always do. Perennial leg barers. Fools!

Turns out, since the 40’s most postal workers have donned shorts almost exclusively, and for substance over style reasons. According to those on the front line of delivery themselves, it’s pretty simple: shorts keep you cool, and dry quicker than trousers. That’s it.

And it makes sense.

Imagine being on your feet all day, lugging all kinds of post around. Traversing the best part of 10 miles amidst a hit and miss climate. You’d want to be comfortable. You’d probably opt for shorts too.

It struck me that lots of culture is like this. Nuanced, odd, and easy to dismiss or misinterpret on the face of it. I think that’s because some things just don’t make sense when you look from the outside in.

Context is such a valuable lens. We take that for granted.

Of course, there will alway be examples of things that have ‘always been that way’, or ‘that’s just how we do it here’. Often because nobody has had the time, space or permission to rethink them.

But there are always things that continue to ‘be that way’ because they work. They make sense. But only if you understand the context enough.

To understand culture, you need to understand context.

Next time you spot something within an organisation or business that seems silly, or odd – just check that you’re not missing the context. Don’t get caught on the rounds in your trousers.

by KJ