Think Outside the Box!

From kindergarten onward, we’re challenged to explore, experiment, innovate, and emerge. We’re not to worry about what people thought years ago, but to come up with new, off-the-beaten-track ideas and ways of doing things. We need to be creative, cutting edge, crossing over boundaries at every opportunity. So used to hearing this, we never stop to wonder if it’s good advice.

But how do we know we’re thinking outside the box unless we’ve first spent enough time thinking inside the box? Have we missed something vital here?

Many of our greatest pioneers of modern science and technology knew that it was what they first learned inside the box that made a critical difference. No true entrepreneur starts totally from scratch or works in a vacuum. Einstein was the consummate out-of-the-box thinker, but he worked from the inside out.

Preparing Great Minds

History, math, logic, reason, memorization of facts, formulas, and an understanding of the nature of God and his connection to the universe—the things they learned inside the box—prepared these great minds to move boldly into uncharted territory to bring to the world new discoveries. It was building on the knowledge and wisdom of others before them that led to the powerful and revolutionizing discoveries that currently benefit us. They didn’t try to sail without the boat.

Yet today, much of the accumulated wisdom of the past is devalued or tossed out altogether: history, literature, critical thinking, rational argument, political philosophy, morality, cultural and faith traditions, common courtesies—all seem to be gone. Trying so hard to think outside the box, we don’t know what was in the box or even know where the box went!

My Idea is Just as Good as Yours!

When I chat with my students today, it seems that several traditional disciplines and shared values that brought structure, sense, purpose, and order to life and society have been left behind. What appears to be encouraged generally is the pursuit of anything and everything that sounds new and trendy, but with a leveling of everyone’s ideas so as not to offend anyone: “My idea is just as good as yours!” But this has never worked in real life because it has never been true. Being able to sort out the right from the wrong, the lasting from the temporary, the higher from the lower, was something we used to learn inside the box.

Too many people in our society appear aimless, disoriented, unmotivated, cynical, and disillusioned (about everything), even before they get started in life—a failure to launch. They don’t appear to have the well-built foundation needed to ride through the tough times of this present life or make good decisions. Instead of the tried and true, time-tested realities that have worked for centuries, they’ve been pacified by nice-sounding but hollow clichés of our always brand new, quick fix, fast food, freewheeling society.

Political Chaos and Theological Ignorance

Is it any wonder that today we are reaping the across-the-board political chaos, social decay, sexual confusion, and abysmal theological ignorance around us? All this seems to stem from the idea that if it’s new and different it’s got to be good, and if it’s what they used to think, then it’s probably bad or obsolete. If we forget or deliberately ignore history, we will repeat it and end up back to the time before we had a box in which to think. Our society can actually be decelerating, while imagining that we’re revving up.

So should we be thinking outside the box? Of course, we must in order to move forward. But only after we’ve mastered what’s in it. What’s in your box that you might have missed?

Photo by Mikael Marguerie via Flickr