Burning Your Boxes

Sep 05, 2022

Are you ever overwhelmed with boxes? Not the kind labeled “nuts,” “bolts,” and “washers” in the garage. Not the flattened cardboard panels loitering in the recycle bin. Not the ones marked “kitchen,” “bath,” and “bedroom” stacked in the storage unit. But those stockpiled in your mind?

These boxes are toxic. They leak compassion. Don’t hold understanding. Squash perspective. Yet they’re easy to fill. Hard to open. Difficult to break. Incredibly attractive. They’re unfailing, uncomplicated, and unobtrusive. No wonder they’re so challenging to part with.

If you want to thrive, you're going to need a lighter.

“Thinking outside the box” as explained in Part 1, “Outside the Box? It’s Likely Not What You Think,” has nothing to do with funky color schemes or cutting-edge innovation or avant-garde design. It’s about an outward mindset.

As the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box explain, “An inward mindset equates to being ‘in the box’ and an outward mindset to being ‘out of the box.” More than an anti-selfishness campaign, this book addresses how our mindset towards others and ourselves impacts every aspect of life.

When I’m “in the box,” my vision is restricted and skewed. I’m unable to see except through the peep holes in my box, and no matter how beautiful, numerous, or large those holes, my sight is limited. When I’m “out of the box,” I’m able to see with greater clarity, depth, and accuracy because a box isn’t creating blind spots and distortions.

Everybody’s got boxes. Few people know it. And that multiplies the problems.

It’s one thing to have an issue. It’s another thing entirely to know you have an issue.

How is it we can live so long with a destructive addiction, annoying habit, or crippling attitude clear as day to others yet entirely unseen by ourselves?

Self-deception is the bullet we shoot ourselves with in the foot. It’s the shotgun pellets we hurl into others’ souls. Sadly, it’s often not until we launch a nuclear missile from inside our box, laying waste to intimacy and influence, that we realize we have a problem. Even then we may believe the carnage is the result of unfair circumstances, unjust systems, and unreasonable people.

Self-deception subjugates the soul as gravity does the body. Until we break free.

The longer we live “in the box,” the more force is required to propel us out. Yet freedom is always available. The price tag is humility.

The humility to hear...

  • my perspectives may be incomplete;
  • my practices ineffective;
  • my premises incorrect;
  • my prejudice intact;
  • my posture injurious;
  • my principles immoral;
  • my position imperiled;
  • my perceptions inaccurate.

No wonder we hunker down in our boxes.

Yet our boxes get lonely and cramped. Eventually.

We attempt to ease our frustration by carving new holes in the box, what the book details as:

  1. Trying to change others
  2. Doing my best to ‘cope’ with others
  3. Leaving
  4. Communicating
  5. Implementing new skills or techniques
  6. Changing my behavior

These seem so reasonable. And they appear “effective” – for a while. Yet last, they don’t. Why? Because we’re still inside the box.

Getting out is demanding…it’s ongoing…and it’s disrupting. Yet it’s liberating.

It’s the difference between staying in the foxhole and hoping the enemy will go away and summoning the courage to climb out and fight.

“The choice to moving from living in the box to living out of the box (or vice versa) amounts to a radical shift in one’s way of being in the world, which is to say that it changes not only one’s behavior but also one’s thoughts, emotions, interpretation of events, and views of the past, present, and future.” The book describes our key and critical choice: “When we are in the box, we experience others not as people with their own lives but as objects within our lives. … The choice to see another as either a person or an object is a choice between whether we will see and experience ourselves and others truthfully or erroneously.”

Few like to consider themselves capable of, much less actively engaged in, seeing others as objects.

Think about your last conflict.

How much time did you spend thinking about how someone treated you compared to how you treated them?

Did you first focus on their behavior or their concerns?

Did you consider all the other ways they could have handled something and chose not to?

Were you more irritated by them or interested in them?

Did you initiate a conversation to explore whether your judgments could be in error or draw your conclusion without the opportunity for dialogue?

Did you listen with the intent to understand or the attitude to endure?

Was your response to defend, discount, and dismiss or to inquire, invest, and invite?

Did you move towards or away from the person? If you moved away from, did you find yourself explaining this decision – to yourself or others – by labeling someone with words such as “toxic,” “harmful,” “misinformed,” “immature,” “unmotivated,” “arrogant,” “selfish,” or “misguided?”

Valiant honesty about ourselves reveals our boxes and courageous compassion towards others disintegrates them.

Phrases common in our culture powerfully influence our staying in the box. We don’t want to “enable.” We can “only control ourselves.” We need to “establish boundaries.” What makes these concepts, and others, so dangerous is they are proper and necessary when correctly understood and applied. Yet just as Satan used Scripture to lure Jesus down a wrong path, so truth can be misemployed to tempt us to stay inside our boxes.

A technique to help avoid this possibility is asking: “What is the polar opposite of my belief about myself and the other person(s) in this situation? What can I do to discover whether this opposing account may be credible and correct or truth lies somewhere in the middle?” Then act.

The more assumptions hold up a belief, the more likely it will collapse.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box is a powerful book which speaks to a universal human dynamic. It’s not just for CEO’s and consultants and counselors. It’s for every single person. Don’t let its easy-to-read fictional story style mislead you about its life transformative power. History showcases leaders who burned bridges and boats to leave people with no way to return to their old places or retreat from arduous campaigns. Follow their example and burn your boxes.


 ©Stephanie D. Smith



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