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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

The Box

In the Lakota culture there is a leather item, called a parfleche. It is a boxlike container. As I understand it, traditionally women wore it around the waist to carry essentials, much as a purse, handbag, or fanny pack might be used today.

That got me thinking. I envision that we are all born with such a “box”. It is located between our ears. It comes with some “stuff” already in it. Some of that stuff includes the universal questions such as, What is life is all about?” “Where did I come from? “Where am I going?” “Why am I here?” “What do I do?” “Where do I belong?” “Who are my people?” “What should I believe?” I have those same questions as you.

From the beginning, our caregivers start filling our empty box with their version of the answers to those questions. As we enter the larger world of school, church, advertising, etc., we are given more answers. As we get older, we develop our own, unique answers to those queries.

The contents of the box may be better recognized as our beliefs. Some of them we can articulate. Most, I believe, lay beneath our level of awareness. We become aware of their presence only when they are provoked by another’s contrary ideas, beliefs and behaviors. Revealing themselves when we strongly react to something, then try to justify our reaction with rationalizations. “That’s just not right!!!” “That’s exactly right!!!!!” “How could that happen?”

Whatever ideas we have accepted and allowed to be a part of the contents of our box, we will defend (sometimes to the point of death) from those people whose box has conflicting content. If prompted we will proselytize others, attempting to influence or change theirs to be more like ours.

Our “friends” are those whose answers might not be exactly like ours but are close enough and palatable enough for both of us. Our loves are those whose thinking mimics ours or if they are different, we find those ideas fascinating, not scary.

If and when these beliefs quit working for us, we can be plunged into an existential crisis. This can be because something happens in our world (either personally, universally, or both) that doesn’t make sense based on the belief systems we have put in place. Something that is not “supposed” to happen, does. Something we cannot “believe happened” does. Injustice. Unfairness. Maybe it is a beautiful life shortened, while the meanies get to live.

When this kind of thing happens, I believe we either patch together some other thoughts and ideas that help us make sense of what happened, we become mentally ill or we die. That is the inherent danger in the existential crisis; when the world that we have organized in a certain way doesn’t turn out that way.

What does this have to do with anything? It is how I explain the common (to me anyway) question, “Why would they say/do/not do such a thing?” “How could someone possibly believe/not believe such a thing?” It is simply that inside their box, they have very different answers to the very same questions I was born with.

Under ideal conditions, my box gets bigger and stretches as I age. Stretches to the point where I can expand my beliefs without feeling stressed. As a friend of mine quipped, “I know nothing, for sure, and that feels so freeing.”

For others of us as we age our box seems to shrink, thicken, and harden to the point where we say (by our actions or words), “I know everything.”

Over the last few months, I have been studying the “Neoliberalism” phenomena, which has dramatically influenced my culture for the last 40 years. I have been especially taken by the lives of the founders and the world they were immersed in. They made up stuff to help them make sense of what they were experiencing.

By learning about the origins, I can better understand the current behaviors of their modern-day devotees. These devotees are simply acting out what their neoliberalism founders have made up in terms of the eternal questions that we all were born seeking to answer. They have very effectively moved their answers into our current political and governmental world.

Their behaviors make perfect sense based on their core beliefs. They are not crazy, stupid, dense, or corrupt, they are just faithfully following their beliefs. The same could be said of any political group or religion.

It helps me to give them grace. I think I am pretty good at giving grace, but only up to the point where their beliefs fuel behaviors that justify (in their minds) hurting/killing others. I still haven’t been able to find grace enough to accept that.


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