Business guru and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell tells of a large corporation that conducted an intensive search for employees who could think outside the box. “It never occurred to them,” Gladwell notes, “that if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.”
Still, lots of people prefer the box. Hordes of workers trudge daily to jobs they hate because their need for security overshadows their thirst for passion. Too many people stay in emotionally or physically abusive relationships because the known, painful as it is, is more predictable than the unknown. Devotees take refuge in religions that offer them refuge from a wrathful God invented by leaders seeking to control through fear. Long ago a visionary found his way out of the box, but his vision was shrunken and crammed into a jar far smaller than the seer would ever consent to inhabit. Yet millions crawl into it daily and wonder why guilt still feels more real than joy.
For many people, the box works. Hollywood producers know the minimum number of explosions-per-action-film to draw adrenalin-hooked patrons to theaters. Fashion advertisers know precisely how far to drop jeans beltlines below bare midriffs to make teenage girls feel as sexy as Brittany. Politicians spew carefully chosen emotionally-charged catch phrases to pocket terrified voters. Newscasters methodically sift through the events of the day to select the dramas that will keep entire nations trapped in their own version of The Truman Show.
Yet for others, the box is far less interesting than what lies beyond it. Some of us would rather surf on the edge of mystery than float aimlessly in a stagnant history. Some of us would prefer to make our own choices rather than default to choices made by others for us. Some of us would rather redefine the box than find a way to accommodate to it.
When I was a teenager, I was immersed in Orthodox Judaism. One morning at the Sabbath synagogue service, I was given the honor to stand at the altar with the rabbi and cantor for the reading of the torah. With great reverence, the holy scroll was ceremoniously laid out on a velvet altar cloth. The cantor brought forth a small ornate silver pointer and began to chant the ancient text.
After interrupting the reading for some prayers, the cantor began to run his hand up and down the velvet cloth. Then the rabbi did the same. Finally, the president of the congregation began patting the cloth in like manner. Recognizing that this was obviously an important ritual, and not wanting to disrespect the practice or appear ignorant, I took a turn stroking the sacred cloth. A minute later the cantor smiled and called out, “Ah! Here it is!” and brought forth the silver pointer. The ritual was not a religious ceremony at all; the elders were all just looking for the lost pointer.
To mistake a lost-object search for a religious ritual is humorous; to build your life on a truth other than your own is tragic. To follow the footsteps of a great person is wise; to follow them over a cliff is insane. To roll down the side of a hill in a refrigerator box is fun; to live in it is death.
The most important thing to know about the box is that it is constantly being redefined by those who do not give credence to it. George Bernard Shaw noted, “All great ideas began as blasphemies.” Einstein declared, “Great thinkers have always received violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Joel A. Barker recognized, “Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”
Is your life proscribed by a box, or have you ventured beyond it? Is your chosen day big enough to express your potential, or has it flattened to mirror the collective fears of those seduced by mediocrity? Your only chance for joy and success lies in your refusal to live smaller than you are. Who you are cannot be contained in any box, because spirit is uncapturable. It is oblivious to history, statistics, expectations, guilt, and social reward. It lives for only one purpose: unstoppable creative expression. If it sees a box at all, it is only to reinvent it.
The box does not need fixing, because it is not broken. It does not need destroying, because it serves a purpose. Every box contains a gift. When you open it, however, take care to remove the contents rather than becoming enamored with the packaging. The best way to recycle boxes is to turn them into stairs. Open them, explore them, extract their essence until they become passé, and then find a greater one. Then go beyond Malcom Gladwell’s advice to seek employees who think outside the box, and become someone who lives live beyond them altogether.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books, including the best-selling The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life. Alan offers Living Prosperously, a home-study course in creating greater abundance, and the life-transforming Mastery Training in Maui. For information on these programs and a free catalog of Alan's books, tapes, and seminars, phone 800.568.3079, visit www.alancohen.com, email email@example.com, or write P.O. Box 835, Haiku, HI 96708.