One of the more tiresome clichés of the last decade or so is the one that nags us all to "think outside the box." We seize on these little snippets of folk wisdom, repeat them ad infinitum and ad nauseam, then stop thinking about what they mean within seconds of hearing or reading them. The repetition kills whatever useful thought they may convey, though most of them require little more than a nod of unthinking assent, followed by an instant of self-congratulatory self-satisfaction about how wise we are to know such things.
In the case of "thinking outside the box," most everyone who ever heard that phrase already knew how fully imbued with such skepticism and will to doubt they already were, and they just hoped that lesser mortals would soon learn from these words just what those box dwellers needed to know to make them emulate fearless non-conformists and rebels such as themselves.
Despite all the times every single one of us has heard that instruction to "think outside the box," the fact remains that we're mostly bozos on this bus. Most of us of whatever stripe, from right to left, from hip to hopeless, from bright to dull, never leave the boxes in which we've so busily packaged ourselves. We love our little boxes, those cozy comfort zones we've constructed for ourselves, the narrative in which we are the central character, the movie in which we are the star. It may be bullshit, but it's our bullshit, and part of that bovine dung is our faith in how much better we are at thinking outside the box than that bozo ahead of us in traffic who insists on driving at the posted speed limit. How boxed in can you get?
The more I think about it, the more I realize how seldom I actually ever saw anyone who seemed to be thinking outside the box, and when I did, I usually was inclined to think the person in question really ought to hop back in the box right quick, should reconsider the choices he or she had made once they'd found themselves boxless. For instance, all those people who have multiple facial piercings and other self-mutilations that sometimes even include big holes in their cheeks, in both nostrils, and in their elongated ear lobes really need to go shopping for a better box for themselves.
All those people who have multiple facial piercings and other self-mutilations that sometimes even include big holes in their cheeks, in both nostrils, and in their elongated ear lobes really need to go shopping for a better box for themselves.
I guess such facial punctuation is meant to be some sort of freak flag of defiance against lockstep conformity, and though it may mark me as intolerant or solidly bourgeois, when I see people with ten safety pins circling gaping holes in both cheeks, my first reaction is to wonder about their traumatic childhoods. My second reaction is to wonder how their current hole-y faced box could possibly be better than the box from which they are now liberated.
Which brings me back to the only topic of conversation we have anymore, and that topic is, of course, Donald Trump, the elephant in the room no one can ignore. Now there's a guy who can think outside the box. Forget all those liberals and progressives who think they've got a new idea or two, who think some government application of the Golden Rule is somehow cutting edge in outside-the-box brainstorming.
No, when it comes to being free of boxes, the Donald has some box cutters that make even terrorists who fly commercial jet liners into big buildings seem unimaginative. For instance, President-Elect Trump thinks ramping up a big new arms race is a helluva fine notion. This time, however, we'll do a much bigger arms race with more players, inviting Japan and the Saudis and maybe even Fiji Islanders and Laplanders to get in the game.
The U.S. has borne the primary costs of nuclear armaments for too long, so why in hell not let other nations develop and build their own damn nukes? No matter how many of these piss ant countries go nuclear, we can always beat 'em at that game. And outlast 'em. That's soon-to-be-President Trump's theory, anyway, and how are you going to get much farther outside the box than that?
Or how about his completely unboxed notion of mainstreaming racism, of normalizing the KKK, or his habit of including a bunch of loose-mouthed racists as part of his inner circle of rich pricks with ugly attitudes, guys like Carl Paladino, that "businessman" from upstate New York who wrote on Facebook that his wish for the new year was that “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford (sic). He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady (sic) cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.”" Now that's some first-class outside-the-box thinking, bigly. But Paladino wasn't done. As for Michelle Obama, the unboxed Paladino hoped the First Lady would" “…return to being a male and [be] let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she [would live] comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla."
It only took Trump about a week to get around to disapproving of those comments. He had bigger tweets to twitter about, however, like his view that the U.S. had been transformed since his election, with big spikes in the stock market and high hopes on the horizon now that he was in charge. And, since he ain't in charge yet, that, too, was some seriously outside-the-box thinking, also bigly.
Then there's that idea he had that women who have an abortion should be punished. Hell, even the most hardcore right-to-life fanatics hadn't come up with much of that kind of talk. Trump hadn't refined his ideas on the subject, so we'll have to wait to see what kind of punishment awaits women who've aborted a fetus. Surely, however, it'll have to be something sufficiently draconian because women willing to terminate their own pregnancies will need to face some pretty scary punishment if we're going to dissuade them from such crimes. Sewing up their genitalia might work, especially if the operation were to be imposed sans anesthesia. Like his ideas about "extreme vetting" of Syrian refugees, Trump is never shy about proposing ideas that reach toward extremity. Few boxes, after all, are more constricting than those that include rules against being unduly cruel.
Maybe, however, thinking outside the box ain't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe that cautionary tale about Pandora and her box bears reconsidering. Maybe the box most of us occupy ain't so bad after all. If our boxes were constructed of ideas about kindness, decency, concern for others, and other humanistic verities, those might have been boxes outside of which we did not need to think. And if our boxes gave us reason to think that former KGB agents notorious for killing off people who opposed them were, perhaps, not the most reliable or trustworthy friends we could have, that box might have been a box in which we should remain, especially if the alternative is to shift our suspicion and distrust to our own intelligence-gathering agencies here at home.
Perhaps, in fact, one of the boxes we might want to avoid jumping into is that box Donald Trump inhabits, which appears to be no box at all.