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City of Banjul
Friday, September 22, 2023

Thinking outside the box


By Aicha

Are you familiar with this expression? If not, you might think that it is about someone trapped inside a box and thinking about how to get out of there.
Like a mouse in a trap desperately trying to get out but the opening only allows the rat to come in but not out.
Well, in a way it can be a matter of the issues the rat has in that situation because it has to find a solution.
When the rat has tried all the common ways, like biting a hole at the side of the box or jumping towards the opening it has to come up with something new or give up.
This is when the tenacity of the rat is tried, either it will give up and wait for the bitter end or it will consider the problem from a different angle than before.

You might not think that a rat is a nice example, but rats and mice are actually very clever animals.
They can squeeze their bodies in through the tiniest holes, if the head goes in the rest will follow.
They are often used by scientists for different experiments, not only for trying medication or make-up but also for behavioral experiments.
They can easily be trained to understand given signals such as a sound when food is delivered in a hidden space or how to move a subject.
The rats learn to listen for the signal and what to do when it comes, so in between they don’t bother and just do normal rat business.

Enough of the rats and back to the ”box”.
The expression means that the ability to think outside the box is when your mind is free. You don’t restrain yourself, instead you are able to see things from different angles.
A lot of people, especially elders, have set up their mind on things. They have decided that there is only one way to interpret the world, only their own opinions count and those who don’t agree are wrong.
I had one person like that, in my closest family, and we always argued about this.
This person was very stubborn and nothing and no one could change this person’s opinion.
Oh, we argued a lot during the years until I decided to stop it because it was useless .
I could as well have been arguing with a stone, I didn’t get any response at all.
When I look back at this I can see that this experience turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I am also rather stubborn, but I decided that I should never become as this person so I became the opposite instead.

For many years I was too open-minded, I listened and agreed with everyone but the more experience I got the more I found myself.
It took many years for me to find my inner voice and to trust that people actually wanted to listen to me.
As very young I was extremely shy, I had a low voice and often mumbled when I was supposed to say something.
I was brought up in a very strict household , taught that my opinions didn’t count and it was better if I just shut up.
Corporal punishment was part of every day life, hard words and humiliation was the air that I was breathing.
I learned that I shouldn’t have existed so it was better to keep away as much as possible so I didn’t annoy anyone.

My older sister was brought up the same way and both of us are so damaged by our upbringing so we can’t even speak about it.
My sister has enclosed her pain, she hides it behind beautiful clothes and jewelry.
I hid myself in the world of books and found that I wasn’t alone.
A book reader is never alone, because books are the best company, and I found that there was a different world out there.
In the books I found that there were people who shared my experiences, I cried with them and rejoiced with them when they found ways out of the misery.
Without thinking I learned how to handle my own situation and I became stronger, little by little.
I read all kinds of books, everything I could lay my hands on. If I didn’t have anything new to read, I read my old books over and over again. It might sound boring, but it made me also realize that some books are so good so they deserve to be read more than once. I learned so much by reading and you know, as well as I, that some lessons are harder than others so they needed to be repeated to sink in to the mind.
To go back to what I meant with the blessing in disguise is that these constant fights forced me to sharpen my argumentation . My words were my only defence, my only weapon in the battles, so I learned how to express my opinions.

When I was a kid I lost all the battles but as I grew up I demanded to be listened to.
You might think that the word ”demanded” is not appropriate , that a kid doesn’t have the right to demand anything , but hear me out.
It is a matter of mutual respect, a child is training to become mature so how can you raise your child to become a strong adult with a good self esteem when at the same time it is beaten and told that its opinion doesn’t count? Are we teaching our children to be free and creative individuals or are we teaching them that they don’t count? Our children, our youth are the future so we must give them the right tools for building it.
To become creative, becoming a problem solver, an inventor and so forth children need an environment that encourages them to dream, using their imagination, to try, fail and try again. They need to do this in an environment that allows kids to bend the rules a bit. Stubbornness is not only bad, it can be a force that drives the kid to become very successful in an area it has chosen. We can often see, at a very early stage, what skills our children have . If we encourage them to train these skills, with time the kids has become better and better. They have been training so much so one day they will suddenly find themselves using these skills in their work. Some open a business of their own, others begin to grow vegetables to sell and provide for their family.

That kid might have had a small vegetable garden at one corner of the compound, it has been training on having the responsibility for this garden, it has been training its skills.
When I was 9 years old, and began to play the piano , I didn’t know that one day I would become a music teacher and a composer. I couldn’t know that all these books I read would lead me to one day beginning to write my own book and the lyrics to the songs I have composed.
I loved to write stories as a child and I didn’t know then that I would have my own column in the Standard Newspaper.

If I would have stayed in ”the box” and wouldn’t have been thinking outside of it I wouldn’t have been the person I am today.
As I am doing a lot of research before I begin to write my articles I read a lot, in my books, read articles and search for information on Internet. This is always leading me to something new and interesting I want to dig in to.
The article I wrote for last week, when I mentioned the Greek philosopher Socrates, should have been about evil. I searched for a quote about evil but instead I found the quote of Socrates and suddenly the article took a whole different direction than I had planned .
Reading about Socrates made me interested in studying philosophy so now I have sent in an application for a course in philosophy.

One thing leads to another and if I would have stayed in the box where my nearest tried to force me to, I would never have been where I am. I would have been trapped, my world would have been so small, my options so limited.
Thinking outside the box is making us free.

We see a problem and we find a million solutions, we build relations even with those we don’t like at first because we have decided to figure out how to handle them. We create new things, new businesses, write books or articles or music or instruction manuals for computers just because we can. We don’t limit ourselves because there is much to learn, there are so many interesting things or places to see, so many people to meet. If we agree to stay inside the box it must have soft sides so we don’t hurt ourselves because we appear confident but are actually rather vulnerable.
When you hear the word philosophy you might associate it with old grey men with long beards. These men were thinking very deep thoughts, maybe mumbling to themselves about things only they could understand.
This narrative is true, but is only one side of the truth.
Philosophy comes from the Greek words: philos and sofia which means the love of wisdom.
For some reason we associate the word wisdom also with old people, a wrinkled old person to whom we go to seek advice.

That is also only one side of the truth.
Wisdom is so much more, it is not only a matter of how much you know but also how much you don’t know.
That sounded strange, didn’t it? How can wisdom be to know how much you don’t know? A wise person has all the answers, right? Well, that is one side of the truth but we can see that from other angles too.
This is what is so fun and interesting about philosophy – every question leads to an answer that leads to a new question and so on. No wonder these old wise men, in our imaginary picture of how a philosopher looks like, had long beards!
My kids complain that I have a little moustache (very common for women of my age, haha) so maybe I have gathered some wisdom during the years.
If I wait long enough I might grow some beards too, you never know.

So why study philosophy? Because it opens your mind, forces you out of the comfort of your box. It sharpens your argumentation and forces you to be clear in mind when you are discussing with someone. It is making your creativity grow and your problem solving skills to prosper.
You will be attractive on the job market because a lot employers need employees with sharp brains.
Here are some areas where you will find that having studied philosophy is useful:
Careers in law
Careers in teaching
The public sector, like police force, government, armed force
Publishing and journalism
Careers in psychotherapy and counselling.
No matter if you choose to get a great career in some area, or become the best housewife with the cleanest laundry in the whole neighbourhood you will always have use for a creative mind.
You will always face problems in life, but it is up to you how to deal with them and with your life.
What will be the philosophy for your life – staying in the box or not?
The choice is yours.

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