Thinking outside of the box
By Hyon O’Brien
On a recent visit to Manhattan, I met up with an old friend from my Hong Kong days. We had a good chat and saw a special exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, ``Picasso Guitars: 1912-1914,” a stunning presentation of dozens of his cubist paintings of guitar shapes, with a few wine bottles and newspaper clippings thrown in.
Afterwards I pondered about Picasso: why do I consider him so special? The top reason for me is his extraordinary originality and his ability to ``think outside of the box.” His many guitar renditions appeared to be cobbled together by children and yet amazingly until he did it, no one had dared to combine paper collage, painting and strings to generate an object of art. Something in him took flight from the ordinary way of thinking to come up with a new and unique art form.
Whenever I gaze upon masterpieces by the Impressionists, I marvel at their insight and innovativeness to depart from the artistic norm of their day of painting realistically indoors. I think the same thing when I see unusual architecture: Frank Gehry’s design of paper-like structures, Rem Koolhas’s glass structure, Gaudi’s curved lines and Frank Lloyd Wright’s dwellings blending into the natural surroundings. Classical music and even rock & roll and other pop genres including rap were created by free thinkers who could ``hear” the rhythms that had never been captured up to that point.
What do I mean when I say `thinking outside of the box? I define it as challenging what is realistic, practical, traditional, safe, logical and customary conforming to a way of living and not blindly accepting everything in society. Admiral Yi Sun Sin in the 16th century during his defense of Korean waters against Japanese attacks utilized an iron covered turtle ship that brought him numerous victories.
King Sejong got his scholars to create the Korean alphabet. Galileo found that our earth is not flat and stood his ground against the Church’s pressure to back down. William Wilberforce of England worked tirelessly to abolish slavery. Emmeline Pankhurst, Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and hosts of other women suffrage movement leaders fought to obtain their rights to vote and run for office. Martin Luther and Mahatma Gandhi were original thinkers who defied and challenged tradition and conformity and refused to accept what had been practiced for years as a mandatory norm.
Even mundane things like brick-laying are susceptible to thinking outside the box. Frank Gilbreth got his start as a pioneering efficiency expert when he questioned the customary way of laying bricks that he had been taught: he examined all the motions involved and eliminated wasted motion to achieve better and more productive way to do the same job.
In everyday life, we need to ask ourselves constantly, why and why not. Am I taking good care of only those loved ones around me and ignoring those outside my immediate circle? Can I show deep concern for those victims of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan even though they are outside of my area and not my immediate concern? Are we complacent and satisfied with the status quo? Is a homeless person only the responsibility of the government? Do I say nothing when someone is being ridiculed and mistreated? Am I afraid of making waves when I should be boldly challenging the unjust situation? I am glad William Wilberforce spent 27 long years working to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.
Do we belong to the school where people insist that we do something only one particular way because that has been done that way for umpteen years? I am glad the Wright brothers saw in their mind’s eye the possibility of taking off from the ground and flying like birds when everyone else’s mind was solidly stuck on the ground way of transportation only. What about reaching space and exploring outside of our earth?
When we look around, all the good things we have obtained in our human history are the end results of challengers who have gone before us. Even now every day this movement of thinking outside of the box is the moving force of making our life on earth more just, more equal, more beautiful, cleaner, and more caring and humane.
Let’s continue this right movement. We are living in a global village and every situation good or bad that confronts our fellow human beings is our concern. Let’s make it a habit to think outside the box and our comfort zone.
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian now living in the United States. She can be reached at email@example.com.