Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.

Malvina Reynolds wrote this as satirical commentary in the 60's to call out the atrocities of the "development of suburbia and associated conformist middle-class attitudes" [Wikipedia] ...and then luckily Weeds launched it into post-millennium pop culture so now the rest of us know about it too. On the surface, Malvina's point mirrors opinions of many of us; the mass produced cookie cutter homes and and equally cookie cutter lives of its inhabitants in our society is a shame and sucks the individuality and uniqueness that makes us all so damn interesting. We satirize it all of the time. Simpsons. Edward Scissorhands. American Beauty. It is equally mainstream to live in them as it is to find flaw in them.

Now, it would be very easy at this point for me to climb up on soapbox and claim that my conclusive point is to tout the "value of diversity" or dive into a sermon on "the richness of being unique and the perspective that brings to the world", but although those platforms are worthy, those conclusions are a bit trite and too easy.... plus that is not at all where I was going with this. 

"Now that you bring it up, where ARE you going with this, Jay?" (That was me doing you). Well, I in fact am going to refute Malvina's point a bit as I have learned that there is much value in the little boxes.  I think it is necessary to build little boxes around us that are often just the same in order to move toward the uniqueness and exploration of the callings within us that make us who we are. Whether by the iron fist of a parent, hard rules of an educational institution or job, or simply bysocietal norms, we need these imposed boundaries to give us the opportunity to check ourselves, test our own theories and discover opportunities to find our own paths. We can't elevate ourselves to the next level of growth, maturity and, dare I say "enlightenment" without a little body check against the boxes structured around us. 

Let's get a little less abstract and put this theory to test.  At the risk of offending some, let's go with "religion".  If this does happen to offend you, remember that I welcome your responses - even if they are equally offensive.
I believe there graduated stages of a person's journey of religious growth.  The most elementary phase is in our earliest childhood.  Most likely, if we have a religious foundation from childhood, it was created by the leadership of our parents who volun-told us to go to religious services (e.g. church, synagogue, temple, ashram, etc.) and explained to us what it is that "we" believe. E.g. "In our family, we believe that Jesus is the son of God."  Or, "In our family we believe that Jesus was NOT the messiah".  Or, "In our family we believe that if you touch your genitals for any reason other than cleaning them or peeing, then you will go blind". This is not a criticism of our parents, rather it is a necessity to give kids a foundation from which to grow. Each of these are boxes designed to give us a foundation, provide structure, and to some degree, contain us. They give us limitations and context from which we will build, in this case, our spiritual lives.  Only when we stay in these boxes indefinitely with neither questioning nor redefining beliefs of our own do these boxes become detrimental.  We then become trapped in defining our religion based upon what we have always been told... and therefore it isn't really a belief at all.  It is a mandate.

The value of the boxes is not the confinement of them, but rather the opportunity to bounce off of the walls, test their strength and then bounce harder against them until they eventually break.  That is when the true beauty of the boxes come into play.  Only when the box is broken do you have the fortunate opportunity to build a new one from the broken pieces.  You get to take what you knew as truth before with the discoveries of how the box broke and then you get to rebuild the box.  A bigger box.  A better box.  A more perfect box for you.  Maybe box of a different shape altogether. But those changes in the box are welcomed because they fit you better than ever before.  In this example, you can stretch your definition of religion, maybe even change it to a different religion that offers a community that more closely aligns with your new discoveries. This new box might feel a bit foreign and may even carry some pangs of guilt (especially if the old box was a Catholic box or a Jew box), but ultimately it feels good.  It feels right. It has room for you to stretch where you need it but it offers safety and definition that brings comfort and unity with like-minded peers, [whisper] even if those peers aren't your immediate family anymore.  The thing is, it is YOUR box to create as you see fit.  You really can't lose if you are open and true to what is inside of you. 

These boxes that we criticize in 60's folk music may seem like a shame if you consider those boxes to be the fullest extent of the development. However, if you consider these boxes we place ourselves in - and I'm not just talking religion, but career boxes, societal boxes, relationship boxes, behavioral boxes, social responsibility boxes - if you consider all of these boxes as a starting point and a foundation, and you realize these boxes are a path to growth and discovery of our authentic selves (authenticity is my new buzz word - be ready to hear it often), the boxes are no longer a shame, rather they are a blessing.  They provide a mechanism for bouncing and breaking and therefore rebuilding, which will lead to what is our own individual truths which is a fundamental key to living authentically.

And with that, all of the little boxes DON'T all look just the same anymore. 

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