When we think about thinking, it might dawn
upon us at some point that our thoughts
usually circulate within a rather tight and rigid
compartment. Our thoughts are boxed in, as it were,
preventing us from departing from certain presumably
“correct” ways of thinking and looking at the world. The
box keeps us “safe” within conventional codes of conduct
and cognition. It keeps us from exploring uncharted mental
territories for fear of the unknown truths which we might
discover for ourselves.
What is this box that keeps us fenced in? Often this box
is invisible and unmentioned, though its constraining
presence is very much felt. Authority figures often construct
boxes to keep their followers under mental lock and key.
For example, religious fundamentalists would distort the
meaning of religious scripture to control and condition the
behaviour and thinking of the ignorant masses. Ideas which
contradict the assumed sanctity of received dogma are
frowned upon and are usually met with punishment. While
this may be good for the vested interests of the powers that
be, it is questionable whether this is good for those confined
by the box.
This is not to say that we should do away with the box
entirely. The box is comforting because it gives us a sense
of order and regulation. The box gives us a safe platform, a
foundation upon which to build our expectations of life. But
too much order makes the mind older. We need to redefine
our relationship to the box so that we can think outside the
box while having our feet firmly planted within its orderly
Let us imagine for argument’s sake that the box in question
is our education system. Admittedly, our education system
is flawed; many graduates have been produced yet not
all will make the grade. The over-emphasis on grades
and examinations has created a certificate culture, where
we equate intelligence with the number of As obtained.
Despite all this, nobody in their right mind would claim that
this particular box is defunct and should be dismissed as
irrelevant. This is too harsh a stance to take.
It is important that we know precisely what the box can
offer and what it cannot. Our education system may be
instrumental in providing us a context to acquire book
knowledge, but it is certainly no substitute for actual immersion in the realities of the outside world. The outside
world is bigger than the box which attempts to describe it.
We learn about theories and concepts within the box;
outside the box, we learn which theories work and which
don’t. The box gives us a starting point from which we draw
our point of reference, but the moment we step outside its
borders, we need to drop all preconceived assumptions and
our presumptions of knowing. Now we know that we don’t