I remember the first time I heard someone use the cliche about thinking outside the box. It was the end of the 1990’s, and I was in a senior level advanced technical writing class.
I had returned to school in the beginning of the decade after the unexpected but blessed arrival of my oldest son. I was trying to bring some respectability to my whole unwed, single bartender mom storyline.
Not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life besides be a good mom and get a couple initials to complement my high school diploma, I decided an English degree would be the path of least resistance to that end. I’d always had a knack for reading, writing, communication, etc.
And pursuit of that degree had provided a path of relatively little resistance until that fateful class. My mastery of BS’ing my way through endless Shakespeare essays was useless when it came to writing technical manuals.
I felt like I was trapped in an advanced mathematic or engineering class disguised as an upper level English course, and I was floundering.
So the professor had just handed out the paperwork related to our major project for the semester and was going over them as the class lecture. I was scanning and feeling immediately overwhelmed — the kind of overwhelmed that makes it hard to pay attention when you really need to be paying attention the most.
Suddenly I hear the professor say that we need to remember to think outside the box with this assignment. My immediate thought was quite literal: What box?! I didn’t see anything about boxes in the paperwork … what is she talking about and what did I miss?!
As I forced myself to hang on her every word for a few minutes, I began to realize she was speaking figuratively, which led to my next thought not that different from the first: What box?! Who the hell started a cliche comparing the human thought process to a box?
And why a box? Why not a sphere or any other shape since the shape in the cliche doesn’t particular matter to its meaning? (Obviously my distracted thought process during her lectures may have contributed to my floundering, but as usual I digress …)
Why tell this story of epic fumbling through part of my life? Because not too many years later I had the same epiphany concerning our our left/right framework for politics and promptly withdrew from the Democratic party.
Why do two diametrically opposed ideologies control our political process and policy? Why is the left/right debate more important than just solving our problems?
Does anyone really believe that either ideology, left to its own devices, is sufficient enough to solve the world’s problems? I know I don’t.
Citizens can’t afford to enable that counterproductive ideology war anymore, and the news cycle is rich with evidence of such.
Like the Katadhin Woods and Waters Monument debacle. Supporters pushed hard for the designation in the waning months of the Obama administration. Now opponents are pushing hard for the designation to be rescinded in the opening days of the Trump administration.
Now we’ve got federal officials spending tax dollars flying around doing reviews of Obama designations, and we’ve got our attorney general threatening to sue if the designation is rescinded — all of which amounts to a ginormous waste of time and a reopening of wounds created by the left/right tug-of-war.
The same script applies to the handling of health care. Under the Obama administration congressional Democrats crafted the Affordable Care Act behind closed doors with little Republican support. This act created the inevitable backlash fueling congressional Republicans to do the same thing now that they are in power.
Neither side has produced a health care plan that ensures health care coverage for all citizens, something 60 percent of Americans support.
Legislating by ideological pendulum swings isn’t sustainable regardless of the issue at hand, nor does such legislating lead to the kind of progress citizens desperately need. It’s time we started to think outside that box.