Gaining a new perspective or insight on an existing problem or issue can be both exhilarating and freeing. Unfortunately, we often inhibit these discoveries by repeatedly turning to familiar solutions and systems. We don’t realize that a better answer is out there, because we fail to question whether the systems or solutions we’re currently using are contributing to the problem. We too often accept the way things are simply because that’s the way things are. Or, worse, we buy into a set of ideas as if they are infallible truths rather than what they really are: part of a spectrum of potential solutions. I think in a lot of ways this problem begins with the way we are schooled as children, but that is a topic for another article. Instead, I would like to focus on how we can work to get out of our boxes. First, let's look at what's keeping us inside of them.
It’s easy to overlook the extent to which biases and assumptions are ingrained into our society, our cultures, and our daily lives. While a healthy functioning society needs shared ideas and values, ideologies that are too rigid can inhibit growth and positive change, which is where we as a society seem to currently be stuck. Here's an illustration of what I mean...
According to polls, as a country, our confidence in institutions (government, banking, healthcare, education, etc.) has continued to be staggeringly low for many years. Although a few institutions have seen a small rebound since the early years of the recession, confidence remains far lower than historical highs in most areas. Clearly, we feel that these institutions are not serving their purpose well; however, we struggle to adequately question why. Meanwhile, record levels of political polarization signal the extent to which we cling to our own ideas as the only way forward. This is made worse by the fact that the highly polarizing issues get the most attention, distracting us from the deeper systemic problems that plague our institutions. In essence, we are getting in our own way, because we won't allow ourselves to step out of our boxes long enough to see the bigger picture.
On a personal level this translates into living your life with a vague sense of unease or dissatisfaction, because your current box doesn't allow for questioning things on a deeper level. The fear of being wrong, the risk that change requires, and the discomfort caused by growth provide you with every incentive to search for solutions only within the safety of your box. But, if the problems were created by the same ideas that built your box, you're not going to find the solutions inside of it. Looking there ensures that nothing will change, and the only growth is your level of frustration.
Fortunately, life provides us with many ways to overcome our personal biases and gain new perspectives. These include: being okay with being wrong, and I mean fundamentally wrong, about something; being open to other, even seemingly absurd, solutions and perspectives; and consciously seeking new information (not info-tainment) on the issues.
These may seem like obvious steps, easy enough to employ, but they won't work if you don't take first take the step of letting your box deconstruct. I don't mean actively tearing it down, unless you're into that ;). What I mean is you acknowledge that something isn't right and you allow the kind of information that contradicts your assumptions to penetrate your walls. Because here's the problem: too often we hear something difficult, something uncomfortable, something hard to process within our current framework of how the world should work, but we stop there. We don't allow it to penetrate our defenses. Maybe we shake it off, make excuses for it, outright deny it, or, more often, just put it away for a more convenient time. But, if you are looking for growth, for real solutions, that time is now. Because when a system is not working, questioning it is not only okay, it is essential; but you won’t find the solutions from inside your box.