I walked into my classroom the other day, for the first scheduled class, and my teacher introduced herself and then began talking about the course.
“Have you guys ever heard of the phrase ‘thinking outside of the box’?”
Everyone in the class casually nodded and some students slowly started raising their hands to answer the rhetorical question.
“Well that phrase is completely outdated,” the teacher explained. “I want you to throw it out.”
Throw what out?” an eager freshman shouted.
“The box—I want you to throw the box out,” she continued. “The phrase implies that there is a box to begin with. Your thinking should be uninhibited and not based off of any set box or form. You should have your own opinions and think about things without the thought of a box.”
I was reminded of this “thinking without a box” when I ran into a story on Bloomberg about mixed-race Americans. I thought to myself, what box do multi-raced individuals check on the Census? Why do we even have to check a box on tests and other things? And how do we get around this thinking with a box?
According to the article “The Census Bureau said 1 in 3 people who claimed to be multiracial said they were of Hispanic ethnicity. The Census doesn’t include Hispanic as a race; instead, people can be either Hispanic or non-Hispanic, and then one of the six races.”
Those boxes aren’t very flexible.
It’s difficult to go about checking a single box when your ancestry expands to fit half of the thousands of races, cultures and ethnicities, and it’s also difficult to think of new ideas when there is a suggested social, cultural and academic “norm.” Telling someone to act outside of constraints is still constraining because now those “constraints” exist.
It’s always better to just go out and do your own thing, and this is of course not to say that you should exclude any ideas that you have come up with from building upon other ideas. That sort of building upon what’s already there helps people from reinventing the wheel and traveling in a repetitive cycle.
Thinking and acting without the existence of a box, while still recognizing and learning from history, allows for more flexibility, understanding and growth. It offers new opportunities than those suggested by “a box,” and its fluidity allows a new way of being.
So forget that a box ever existed when you’re trying to construct something new. Whatever is “normal” or “supposed to be” was suggested by another flawed human being’s opinion. Challenge what’s out there, ask questions about everything and go out there and do your own thing, because when it’s over and you’re six feet under you want to be able to say that you’ve done everything that you could have possibly done in your lifetime and that you have moved, however little bit, forward and have no regrets.