Where to Think.

Posted: October 11, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty.

Somewhere in my distant past, now lost in time’s shifting mists, its haze suggesting the delicate beauty of impressionist landscapes and panels containing mauve Japanese flower drawings, a fast fading thought flies by leaving my brain before I can be sure what it was trying to tell me. But later in the day, as if by magic, the thought returns or what I think must have been the thought quietly comes back reminding me of memory’s quirky hold on the past.

What I wanted to remember but couldn’t regardless of how hard I tried is the day or week or month or even the year when a new term was coined which, almost overnight, gained currency nationwide, sweeping through the halls of higher learning we call academia, and the plethora of learned professions linked to higher learning’s hallowed halls with bonds of silken thread as strong and tough as a Caterpillar Tractor plowing through rich, hard packed, Midwest soil in early March.

To me, when the new term first surfaced, it seemed hum drum, even boring, but perhaps that was part of its charm. Bells and whistles—glitz in all its tawdry splendor–were no longer in favor; for higher learning’s fashion wheel had turned: glitz was out, bare bones was in.

The new term I’m referring to is now old hat, at least that’s how it seems to me. The term is tattered, worn out, but unwilling, so far, to say goodbye. So with us it remains, still used often enough, even if the alacrity and aplomb which initially gave it its first push long ago left it for another shore and a new generation. And you, dear reader, wise, open minded, and forgiving with, like us all, a certain penchant for nostalgia may not have noticed, at least not consciously, how shop worn this term has become. Yet I’m convinced it’s definitely overstayed its welcome.

Oh! And before I forget, let me mention the term I’ve become increasingly unhappy with—and, in all candooor, assure you I’m convinced that deep down, you share my displeasure with the term’s continued use. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if unbeknownst to yourself, you’ve already figured out the term I’m thinking of, but let me mention it anyway, so we can be sure we’re all together on the same page. Yes, the tattered term I’ve been ranting about is, of course, “thinking outside the box.”

What could be more banal, more humdrum than a box? Nothing at all special about a box, wouldn’t you agree? No special color scheme, nor size, nor hotshot brand name necessary. Oh, it’s 070128_008_NewYorkerCollection P175a gotta be a box from Whole Food, or Starbucks, or Trader Joe’s, or Target, or Neiman Marcus, or Tiffany’s! Wrong. The box can be any box; the important thing is simply to have one, and then think outside of it.

And as soon as you’ve done this, you’re home free. You hit the jackpot. The target. The target’s bulls eye. Sound too simple. Not really. For this common place object—a box, any box—actually possesses a magical power that can lift you out of your everyday world unto creativity’s sacred shores. Follow that famous mantra and you’re all set: you too can be creative, original and, hopefully, become rich as well. Who in their right mind wouldn’t want this? I don’t know about you but honesty compels me to admit that I certainly would.

That’s the term’s claim in any event, and it’s certainly enjoyed a remarkable career. But I believe it’s ready for retirement—indeed, it’s retirement is long overdue. For strangely enough, at least to me, intellectual terms or products are subject to fancies and fashion cycles in ways that closely resemble fashion cycles for cars, hem lines, lipsticks, and eye shadow. When everyone wants to drive an SUV, you don’t want to be caught driving a clunky 4 door sedan, wouldn’t you agree? Ditto phrases like “thinking outside of the box.” Besides, thinking out of the box no longer works. It’s like a gold vein which has been drained dry.

So starting next month, promise me you’ll at least try to go an entire morning without thinking you need to think outside the box. If you find at first you can’t make it, don’t beat yourself up. Forgetaboutit and get a good night’s sleep. But on the next day, try it again. Give it another shot. And I’ll bet you’ll be successful. Then shoot for a morning and whole afternoon. After that, aim to get through an entire day without thinking you need to think outside the box. Then celebrate. And as your final act of liberation, switch gears entirely and think about thinking inside the box.



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