Here is a box:
It has its uses. As you see, you can store books in them. They’re not places where one should go to think.
Here is an envelope:
Someday soon, nobody will know anything about envelopes because they contain snail mail and someday soon, nobody will know what that is. If there’s an envelope on your desk, you’ll soon discover that its easy to push.
When I read the news, I see that a lot of people have found a handy box and have gone inside it to do their thinking. They’ve done that for so long, they don’t feel claustrophobic. They’re good candidates for solitary confinement because they would never notice their plight. It never occurs to them to think outside the box.
Likewise, a lot of people are afraid to push the envelope. The phrase refers to traditional boundaries and presumed limitations rather than a physical envelope, though I have a feeling most people think of the paper container that comes in the mail.
I’m among those writers who don’t understand the attractiveness of thinking inside the box or of being afraid to push the envelope. I prefer destroying the box and shredding the envelope. Years ago, when I was writing management and supervisory training materials for corporations, my view–which, fortunately, was in tune with the prescribed best practices of the time–was that saying “we’ve always done it this way” was the weakest reason for doing anything.
People seem to find comfort in “we’ve always done it this way,” staying inside the box, and leaving the boundaries defined by the envelope alone. What a waste. Why put arbitrary limits on oneself? I don’t get it. For one thing, it’s boring. For another, it stifles innovation in business, government, the arts, and one’s personal life. It goes almost without saying that the writers we remember didn’t write their best novels and most groundbreaking nonfiction while sitting in a box.
I remember sitting in a high school humanities class when the teacher said to the class, “How many of you hate death?” Rather than boldly raising our hands, we all looked around to see who else was raising their hands. Nobody wanted to be the first to take a stand. Of course, in school, conformity is the ideal way of staying out or trouble. Apparently, it still is.
We still look around, don’t we, when new ideas arise to see who’s embracing them. It’s as though we can’t make a move without seeing what our peer group is doing? (I think Congress works like this.) So many people are afraid to be different!
Here’s a confined space:
The horizons in this space are very narrow. Yet, there seems to be a comfort in that. It’s the same every day. No worries. No censure from others who are afraid to step outside the space and think on their own. Thank goodness history’s innovators were unhappy with confined spaces.
I often ask people, when it comes to thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope, “what have you got to lose?” Inevitably, they have more reasons for not doing it than for doing it. I want to say, “why are you making yourself smaller than you are?” But I don’t. It’s not polite. If they ask me if I agree, I say that I don’t. This makes them nervous as though thinking outside the box or pushing the envelope will bring down the wrath of fate upon them.
Okay, that could happen. It probably won’t. Meanwhile, we’re more creative and innovative than we’re giving ourselves credit for. I see nothing to be gained by hiding our light underneath a bushel.