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Outside the Box

04/26/20 My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” Hosea 4:6. We are constantly using our minds – to think, perceive, pay attention, learn, remember, problem solve, dream, verbalize, judge, discern, classify, sequence, compare and contrast, and many other behaviors and processes. We basically think our way through our lives. I want to focus today on some of the errors we make in our thinking – errors that keep us thinking inside the box, inside self-created limitations that prevent us from engaging life fully. When we are thinking inside the box, we do not experience the state of matters in life as they truly are; rather we experience life as we assume it to be. The box that we create for ourselves, or have accepted from others, is comprised of erred thoughts, mental flaws, and cognitive biases that obstruct our thinking and distort how we live, respond, and relate to everything and everyone around us. Many of these mental biases are a result of the ego pressuring us. Some are a result of our education, how we process information, our family environment, and other social influences. These flaws become the filter through which we experience our world. Because of these mental blemishes our viewpoint can become tainted by our own personal preferences and opinions; we can neglect facts, reason, and the supreme power and intelligence of God within us. From within our box, our totally human perspective, we cannot see reality in its best possible sense. Biases are the opposite of objectivity. Objectivity means to consider all information without taking sides, without a predisposition for one choice or another. Objectivity is the skill of separating these distinctions from how we view reality. Bias, on the other hand, is the art of interpreting reality through our own feelings, beliefs, preferences, experiences, personalities, and emotions. There are mental biases as well as social biases. As a society, we apply social distortions of the truth to various life categories, which include social class, commercial bias, ethnic or racial bias, geographic, nationalistic, gender, linguistic, political, religious, sensationalism, and even a scientific bias. We are shaped by our boxes, and our lives are largely formed by these boxes – our home, friends, community, education, economics, politics, religion, pivotal life experiences, even the media that we absorb. British Essayist, William Hazlitt said, “We are all of us, more or less, the slaves of opinion.” Mental biases, or cognitive biases, as Richard Heuer, Jr. states, “are mental errors caused by our simplified information processing strategies. In other words, a cognitive bias does not result from any emotional or intellectual predisposition toward a certain judgment, but rather from subconscious mental procedures for processing information. A cognitive bias is a mental error that is consistent and predictable.” One example of a common cognitive error that is rampant today is in the assessment of Muslims. The logic goes like this: some Muslims have done awful things; all people who do awful things cannot be trusted; therefore, all Muslims cannot be trusted. There is a breakdown in the processing of information caused by fear, and this type of thinking is predictable and consistent throughout the entire world. There will be people who believe all Christians are religiously intolerant because one Pastor threatened to burn Qurans. There are people throughout the world right now who believe that Christians are all terrorists because of the actions of such groups as the Ku Klux Clan, Army of God, the Christian Identity, the Christian Patriots, the Concerned Christians, the Lambs of Christ, and the Hutarees… all Christian terrorist organizations. Some of our mental boxes are harmful, others are not; but all are worth abandoning. Mental boxes are indicative of a lack of understanding: either proper knowledge partially processed or improper knowledge fully processed. Both lead to destruction: my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. The destruction can be in any part of our lives: physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. And have you noticed that sometimes we trade one box for another box. When we are young, we sometimes become repelled by our parents’ generation – their box just does not fit. We do not want to be like everyone else and so we rebel. And what do we do? We pick up the same box as all the other dissenters. Today everyone rebels the same way; we do drugs, get piercings, tattoos, and dye our hair shades that would never occur in the natural world. In our attempt to be different, and assert our individuality, we look like everyone else who wants to be different and assert their individuality. There must be a common box for individuality asserters. Romans 12:2 teaches: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." To conform to the pattern of the world is to think and live inside the box of the world. To be transformed is to change what we are, who we are, how we think – it happens internally. Our uniqueness is expressed from within, not by a change in our external appearance. Sometimes we stay in our box, not because it serves us well, but because we are too complacent to make a change. It is easier to continue believing what we believe and doing what we do, than to take the time to learn something new. We keep it on and think we are not conforming to the pattern of the world because we can turn it to make us appear different. But it is just the same old box. Sometimes we wear a box because we think it protects us from others. Some we wear our box out of fear from being taken advantage of by others. We may not have a high level of technological ability, so we wear a box that protects us when we go out in public. It is like wearing a mask today when we go out, to protect us from the virus germs that others could give us. Yes, it is prudent to wear a mask, but it is not necessary to fear people. They are not the enemy. But our mask can become our box. One tip on wearing the mask, and the box: make sure you brush your teeth and use mouthwash before you put it on. You are going to be alone with your breath for a while. And sometimes we live in our box so long that it starts to stink, and we do not even know it. When I was a teenager, I practically lived in the same pair of cut-off jeans. They were comfy and suited me well. But one day Mom commented that they stunk. Rather than have her wash them, which meant I would have to take them off and live without them for a day, I sprayed Lysol all over them and went along my way. The point is this: pigs don’t know pigs stink. If we associate long enough with people who have the same kind of box that we have, in a short period of time we cannot tell that we are thinking incorrectly. Zig Ziglar called it “stinking thinking”. We no longer recognize that our behaviors are offensive. We all have reasons why we wear our boxes. Some of them are good reasons, some of them are bad reasons, and some of them are totally false reasons. But we have a choice: to not only think outside the box, but to live outside the box. To live outside the box – outside of human predictably flawed thinking – is to be entirely objective, to release our ego’s desire to be right, and stop comparing and controlling. To live outside the box is to let Spirit flow freely and not judge. Maybe yes, maybe no; remaining neutral. To live outside the box is to strive for the truth of a person, place, or situation; to see it rightly, without our mental distortions. Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But we cannot know the truth from within our box. Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a book entitled The Four Agreements. We live our lives through agreements that we have made with other people’s opinions on things: we maintain our biases because we have agreed to them. They are the walls of the box through which we live our filtered lives. The premise of his book is that if we make just four new agreements, we can break down the walls of our box. The agreements are: be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. These are simple to understand but difficult to live. I won’t do a book review, since you can order it, read it, and draw your own conclusions. It will be worth your time. He came out with a Fifth Agreement and it is this. “Be skeptical but learn to listen.” It is not to be cynical, which is already having made up your mind regarding something. But be skeptical and unconvinced, yet open. We do not have to agree with everyone’s opinion and buy into it. Rather, we can understand that everyone we speak with has their own box from which they are living and speaking. Our challenge is to learn to hear beyond the words and discern the at a deeper level the truth of what they are saying or how they are living. What Ruiz is saying is to live outside the box and be set free. So I encourage you to face the challenge of seeing things rightly, to see others rightly, to see our self as we actually are, to abandon the biases and mental errors, and let the Spirit of God illuminate us and all that we encounter.

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