Thinking Outside of the Box

By Bruce Mann, TC Executive Director

“Social facts are the values, cultural norms, and social structures which transcend the individual and are capable of exercising social control.  French sociologist Émile Durkheim defined the term, proposing that social facts ‘consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual,  which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over the person’.

Closely related to the idea of social facts are ‘Socioreligious facts’.  As you might guess, these are thoughts or behaviours that combine religious and social factors.”

–  Excerpt from TC article: “Social Facts: Putting new thinking in old mindsets

Last August I wrote about a concept called “social facts” and how we’re influenced by them – you can read the article here.  I felt it was time to come back to this idea and develop it a little more.

No doubt you’ve heard the expression “thinking outside the box”, and maybe used it a couple times yourself.  Its use has become quite common in our culture as a way of challenging people to think beyond conventional boundaries.  There are a few different explanations for its origin, but most think it came from a simple exercise where people were challenged to connect a series of dots with four straight lines without lifting their pens.


I remember doing this and racking my brain to figure it out.  I was looking at the task through a filter that stuck to the imaginary boundaries I had set for myself.  After I saw the solution, not only was I struck by its simplicity, I was shocked by how confined my thinking was.  It wasn’t that I considered going outside the boundaries and decided not to.  It’s that I didn’t even realize the boundaries were there.  My thoughts had been conditioned to accept restrictions that didn’t exist.  I was living within a social norm that reduced my capacity to envision a solution.

In short: I didn’t even know what I didn’t know!

We are at risk of this kind of reduced worldview.  Even the most brilliant person can process life and within imaginary boundaries that keep their thinking and actions inside the Social Norm or Socio-religious Norm box.

So what can you or I do about it?  There are a number of things that would help us to recognize the influence of social norms.  But the most helpful is to do what Paul encourages us to in Philippians 2:5 – “let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”

Learn from the Master, Jesus.
(On a side note, calling Jesus the Master can change your life)

A careful study of Jesus in the Gospels shows us someone who intentionally and skillfully challenged the social norms of his day, in both in word and deed.  The Sermon on the Mount is a great example of this.  The phrasing, “you have heard it said – but I tell you” is so prominent.  So much of what Jesus did in his earthly ministry was centered on challenging entrenched norms of his day that had people trapped in a life of legalism, confinement and lowered expectations.  He would contrast these restrictions with images demonstrating the expansiveness of God’s Kingdom and its ever-increasing influence.  In this we see Jesus functioning as a cultural architect, building within those he influenced, the powerful, life-giving culture of his Father’s Kingdom.

We are called to no less!  As transformational agents, we are led by the Holy Spirit to move outside the box of the norms of our day – both social and socio-religious – to bring life-giving influence of God’s Kingdom. My prayer for both your and I is the same as the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesian 1:17& 18

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.

God gives wisdom and revelation for a reason.  We need it to effectively and intentionally bring the attributes of God’s character to the entrenched darkness of our world.

So the next time you hear someone say, “Think outside the box,” perhaps it will have new meaning.

One Comment

  1. Thank you, Bruce. Our God is the greatest “outside the box” thinker of all time!

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