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Thinking Outside the Box, Looking Inside the Box

Thinking Outside the Box

“…George Bush, all by himself.  The Decider, just spit-ballin’, you know thinkin’ outside the box…You know what?  Thinking outside the box is for smart people.  The box is for you.  You need the box.  Stay inside the box.”

– Bill Maher

What is the Box?

The Box is the boundary of currently acceptable thought.  Before Copernicus, it was outside of most people’s Box that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  But nowadays, thinking that the Sun revolves around the Earth would be outside the Box!

We sometimes have a stroke of insight or ingenious creativity and proudly declare that we’ve arrived outside the Box.  While it is useful to look at our progress for encouragement, it is also important to recognize that beyond every Box is yet another Box.

Thinking outside the Box is a journey, not a destination.

Where are the Boundaries of the Box?

Are we able to think that raping children is a good thing?  Or that double chocolate lava orgasm cake is a bad thing?  If not, then those are boundaries of our Box.  We may object and say that of course raping children is bad and orgasm cake is good, but that’s missing the point.  We must first dispassionately identify the boundaries before we can talk about the Good and the Bad.

Each of us has our own Box.  It is shaped by our experiences, biology, culture and personality.  Some things that are in one person’s Box may not be in another’s.  There are overlaps between people’s Boxes, but no two people have exactly the same Box.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Just because something is outside the Box doesn’t make it Good or Bad.  The same goes for things inside the Box.

Sprinkling catnip on your balls and dangling them in front of the cat may be outside the Box, but that’s not necessarily Good (or necessarily Bad).

Often, we don’t know whether something is Good or Bad until we get out there and give it due consideration.  When Wikipedia first started, it seemed like a really dumb idea.

Sometimes, the idea seems outright wrong until we cross that boundary and find out otherwise.  Democracy, homosexuality, and nuclear vibrators were all at some point widely considered bad ideas — well maybe democracy is still a bad idea.  But if we never stepped out of our Box to discover both the Good and the Bad, we’d always be stuck in the same place.

Thinking Outside the “Thinking Outside the Box” Box

Liberal minded thinkers, myself included, often fall into the trap of dogmatically thinking outside the Box, while at the same time accusing conservative thinkers of dogmatically staying inside the Box.  But “Thinking outside the Box” is itself another Box.  There is nothing wrong with thinking inside the Box.  Too often, we declare with haughty flair that “I think outside the Box”, looking down upon the mere mortals who dwell inside, lacking the intellectual and creative might to break free.  But things inside the Box are often there for a good reason.  The Box is full of Truth and Wisdom, like being kind and generous to others, saving money for a rainy day, being humble, being a good listener, being respectful.

I’m still a liberal thinker, always taking things apart and reassembling them in novel ways.  But unlike the earlier days of my intellectual development, I no longer think that this is The way to think; it is just my role within the bigger picture.  I’m like the R&D department in a company.  And since no company can ever survive with an R&D department alone, I’ve come to appreciate my conservative counterparts who actually run the company and carry the burden generating revenue.

The ToolBox

I try to nudge conservative thinkers a little beyond their box.  At the same time, I implore liberal thinkers to exit their Box by sometimes paying a visit “back inside the Box”.  The Box is a tool to better understand ourselves and the people around us.  In order to do this, we must push ourselves to think beyond our own little Box.

So in the goal of world peace, won’t you let me inside your Box?  (I know you were wondering when the Box joke was coming!)

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