For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. Romans 8:24-25 (NASB)
While people generally believe that they favor innovation, there is a general lack of new ideas coming from the state and its cheerleaders, and sadly, many don’t seem to mind. In fact, many beneficial ideas are muted in favor of old, tired and failed ideas; e.g. healthcare via the state. This general lack of appreciation of innovation is unfortunate and detrimental for society as a whole. The lack of innovation also skews the perception of hope and portrays problems in a superficial subjective way. Hope influences how people live their lives by giving the hopeful a sense of anticipation for the fruits of one’s faith and labor. A weak understanding of innovation and hope, however, may cause one to lose hope, even one’s hope in the Lord and his blessing. Paul wrote that the believer’s hope is not in the current perceived world; the fulfillment of God’s ultimate promise is something beyond our ability to imagine and fully comprehend. People struggle to imagine phenomena which lie beyond the narrow confines of their knowledge and senses much less the fulfillment of the promise of God. That is, people have a hard time thinking beyond their mental “box.” This article will examine the box, suggest how one might get out of one’s box and explain the value of living out of the box for believers, because hope ain’t in the box.
Here innovation will be understood as the introduction of new ideas, tools or methods to achieve a goal with greater ease and efficiency. Though innovation can involve invention (the creation of a tool never made before) not all inventions are innovative. In other words, an innovation must save people time, effort and resources to the point where people are asking the innovator to take their money. Innovation can happen anywhere at any time, but it is also a byproduct of the free market where competition to meet consumer demand punishes inefficiency and waste. The market pushes businesses to gain an edge over competition in order to stay open; to actually be “sustainable.” A business or endeavor is unsustainable when it does not produce a profit and its expenses, including the effort, time and resources put into it, exceed the value of what is produced. People who understand the free market will know that “business” means people or a single person engaged in buying and selling products in an effort to live and at the same time serve their neighbors. So, everyone has the potential to innovate in their lives in a business situation or in everyday life. Some innovations have a personal character and application, while other innovations have an effect on a greater part of society. To innovate one must recognize and get out of one’s box.
The box is the expression many use today to refer to inflexible patterns of thinking which see situations in a particular way. What is seen is often accepted as the way things have been and will be for at least the near future. If challenges arise in life, a non-innovative way of resolution is often simple arithmetic; e.g. in order to do more work, one adds workers; if one needs more cash, then print more money. As mentioned earlier, the major media outlets, many teachers and most politicians generally focus on a simple interpretation of the visible world. Thus, it is not a surprise that worldly hope and progress are built on the redistribution (division) of the “good” things people already have which others lack. The inability to see beyond one’s box causes one to focus on the empirical; that is, what is already seen. This box of the senses has many “sides,” of which I have been able to work out four. As I experience more of life, I may encounter more sides; in the meantime, one is free to add to this list or adjust as one deems appropriate. Here are the four sides: 1) one’s prior knowledge which is acquired knowledge before encountering a problem or a new situation; 2) rules and regulations, primarily legislation by the state; 3) personal moral codes which include religious, cultural and ethical beliefs; and 4) the language(s) which one can speak.
Remember that the inside of one’s box represents all of that which is warm, fuzzy, safe and right for any given individual. The outside of the box is often offensive to most people at least some of the time. The resistance I sometimes receive upon describing these sides is interesting. The objections of some are at times attempts to protect a box while claiming to have the desire to get out. Some university scholars will assume their own enlightenment which only leaves the task of requiring others to join them in their “new” box. Thinking that everyone will live in harmony by having the same specific opinions and views once leaving a signified box is indicative of one who has not left their box. Out of the box thinking is usually a lonely and misunderstood endeavor. Out of the box ideas can be considered threats to existing comfortable patterns of life. The cost of venturing out of one’s box often will outweigh the risks of staying in a box. However, people should always be free to choose, as long as they bear the responsibility of their choice.
The first side to discuss is prior knowledge: this is an expression used by some in pedagogical circles to categorize all knowledge and experiences of a person up to the point when new information or an unfamiliar situation is encountered. It is at this point where a person must decide whether or not to accept the new information or try to figure out what to do. This body of prior knowledge will include one’s education, socialization, experiences, discipline and feelings. Education and socialization include generalized and universal problem-solving approaches and techniques. The more uniform the educational system and cultural norms are, the more people will encounter a wall of a box at the same time. One will usually continue to add to their prior knowledge as long as they are alive. People will often not remember all that is in their prior knowledge but must always work through its influence. For example, preferences in food, music and leisure; we may not understand why we like or dislike the things we do, but often they are the result of prior experiences. People favor and have a bias for their prior knowledge as it is familiar and already known. For prior knowledge to be replaced by new information, the new information must convince a person that there is more to be gained by changing one’s mind. Accepting new information often has a ripple effect of consequences through one’s life. Sometimes people would rather just not deal with those consequences and ignore the reality of better information.
One way to overcome this side of prior knowledge, is to be open to learning ever more information, opinions and ideas from many different sources of different time periods and location. Just as a person may turn an object to view that object from a different angle, listening to or reading the thoughts of others with different backgrounds sometimes has a similar effect. This can lead to still other perspectives, one of which may lead to innovation. In the academic world where specialized, narrow and focused study is the norm, one can study a particular subject matter from the perspective of a different department or school of thought; for example, studying race dynamics from the perspective of Austrian economics.
Government rules and regulations also act as a barrier to creative thinking. Because of legislation, certain ideas or potential solutions are not considered simply because they are illegal. Breaking some arbitrary rule comes with the possibility of incurring violence and punishment; this discourages exploration of some ideas. In America people are generally taught to respect the law, so, overcoming the stigma of becoming a criminal is often too high a price to pay for innovation. Regulations function as a way of narrowing the range of problem solving and channels people down preapproved lines of thought. Funding for state-agency-approved-ideas (rent seeking) is enough for people to generally believe there are no other worthwhile directions one could go with research. Note that often the best ideas are criminalized primarily because of the threat those ideas pose to existing and established industry and social norms; it is possible to see that many laws are protectionist in nature.
One way to overcome this side is to pay attention to the words used in regulations. Two examples of this approach are represented by the United Parcel Service (UPS) and Uber. Simply stated, by changing a few words, these businesses were able to work around existing rules and restrictions. Uber drivers are not taxi drivers, they are a ride sharing service; UPS does not handle mail, it delivers packages.
Alternatively, when one does not want to deal with regulatory restrictions, it is possible for one to leave the country for a location where those rules have no authority. “Brain drains” from over-regulated societies and “seasteading” are two examples of people getting through this wall. Of course, the best option is to eradicate, roll back, or repeal all examples of the legislation of morality; I discuss that in another article.
Personal moral codes are beliefs which serve as principles to guide choice. When there are a variety of choices, people will often use their moral code to narrow down the range of possibilities. Most religions in the traditional sense are more or less codified moral codes which are often enforced by governmental bodies; e.g. the Roman Catholic Church. The “decentralized” protestant church in America reveals this personal moral code phenomenon by the sheer number of different expressions of Christian faith. People can preserve their moral codes by joining established formal religious bodies or they can start a new religion or sect to nurture their moral code. One might say that these beliefs are part of one’s prior knowledge, but they are different in that there is a sense of good and evil, permissible and not permissible attached. Even atheists have moral codes (religion) as they live out their own brand of good and evil; they are also not reluctant to give public testimony in order to win converts. Because of the moral component, choices are made with little regard to legality, popularity, convenience, quality and cost. In fact, because of moral codes people will voluntarily make less popular, less convenient and higher cost choices. It is because of these beliefs that some choices are not considered as productive options because they are believed to be immoral. For example, people who believe that “illegal” drugs are bad, will reject the suggestion to decriminalize drugs as a way of resolving the “drug problem.”
Getting around moral codes may sound a bit underhanded or unfaithful to believers, but it is sometimes the case that moral beliefs and positions are the result of a narrow interpretation of scripture. It is possible that there are multiple interpretations of the same passage in scripture. Sometimes changing an interpretation can remove or add restrictions, negative connotations or contextual subjectivity. An example can be the interpretation of greed in the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-23. Continually examining and meditating on the word of God for a more faithful and consistent interpretation is part of the grace the Lord has given us. Eventually, one might even realize that Christian life is compatible with a libertarian political view of life. In other words, it may be the case that the perceived incompatibility of Christian and libertarian thought might be the result of a subjective interpretation of scripture.
Finally, the Language we use to communicate, and its grammar can function as a wall. Language is not just a mode of communication, but also a way to preserve and reproduce subjective perspectives and values; in other words, language bears the marks of those who speak it. The grammar (the rules of putting words together) of a spoken language not only expresses the values of the people who speak that language; but it also expresses how the world is observed and, in turn, influences how one will interact with it. For example, because America is an egalitarian society, one may speak to teachers and parents using the same expressions one might use with one’s friends. In traditional Korea, how one addresses another is determined by several factors, most significant of which is one’s age. The hierarchical structure of society and one’s place in it are expressed in the language one uses. Thus, which expressions and vocabulary one uses is dependent on one’s conversation partner.
The expression “lost in translation” hints at this phenomenon that language is more than communication and provides a way beyond this wall. One might call it a loss of meaning if a certain nuance was meant to be preserved and reproduced; but, if losing that nuance was the intent to move beyond the barrier of the wall, then it is not a loss. In my church it is often the case that certain topics are awkward in one language; simply switching to another removes the awkwardness and allows conversation to proceed without compromising manners. This is perhaps the most challenging wall to overcome because to overcome it, one must learn to speak a different language fluently. There are scholars in the discourse of “institutional racism” who are trapped in the notion that there is no escape from systemic racism. While their perspectives are subjectively true, the simple way to avoid specific expressions of institutional racism is to learn to speak and think in a different language.
I discuss and teach these ideas in the university setting in order for students to learn that many problems can be resolved through innovation, rather than by coercive regulations. However, the reader might be interested to know that working in the church for over thirty years has led me to feel out this box. Personally, encountering a problematic situation was and is an indication of a lack of knowledge. The shortfall of knowledge can be in details, context, history, perspective, ignorance of alternatives or just how state regulations are coercive, hypocritical and unjust. Having a better understanding of a problematic situation and its underlying framework, empowers one to move beyond it in the manner described above. The inability to resolve problems effectively can lead to despair and a sense of hopelessness. Sometimes misplaced or mis-imagined hope can disappoint people and make them question the legitimacy of faith. The concept of innovation can help us to reevaluate the substance of our hope and how we wrestle with our problematic situations.
As hard as it is to leave one’s box, the believer must continually do so throughout life, because problems have a way of continually showing up. I mentioned above that hope is in part the anticipation of the fruit of one’s labor; in this way our hope is what motivates us to live in anticipation of what God will make known to us next. Paul reminds us that our entire life is guided by the hope of God’s blessing of salvation. The fulfillment of this hope is not in the observable world. That is, our hope of faith is not the acquisition of material goods others already have or the ability to enjoy the activities of the rich and famous; some of us may enjoy these very things, but they are not necessarily the markers of that blessing. Instead, through faithful and diligent meditation of scripture, we anticipate the fulfillment of the hope given to us. In the meantime, the Lord protects, leads, and reveals the peace of faith to us. That is, God gives us the ability to break free of the anxiety and stress of unproductive choices and desires. Dare I say that with this kind of growing faith, what other people have acquired and accomplished will not be a source of envy, for one already has hope in the eternal which exceeds everything we already know. It is one way we can honestly and sincerely share our joys and sorrows with each other in faith without a shred of covetousness or resentment. This might sound impossible and a naïve fantasy, or it might just be your wall keeping you from appreciating the fullness of the peace of God.
The results of innovation often cannot be known beforehand; just how beneficial and influential our innovation can be, cannot be predicted. In other words, in addition to overcoming a problem, there are other effects of our innovation; just how far those effects go are difficult to predict. Our society today is the result of the innovative efforts of many people of the past; a hundred years ago, no one could have imagined how leaving their box would play out, and here we are. Through innovation the believer overcomes his or her wall to resolve problems and live a life beyond all expectation in peace. Just as a business must continue to innovate to stay relevant, our faith must continue to grow to remain hopeful and avoid ossification and regression. Our faith must continue to grow to find the walls of our faith-box and move beyond them. In other words, through innovation, a believer maintains a life of hope not in the visible present but of the unknown future. Believers might even find themselves in positions of leadership not as part of a plan, but because one has left their box.
Continually pushing against the walls of our box not only prepares us for the unknowable future, but it is a life which is beneficial to ourselves and those around us. At the very least, we are able to teach and share our testimony with our families so they, too, can live patient lives of hope in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal life. Our trust in God through an ever-maturing faith is never disappointed. Instead we are amazed at God’s provision and the manner in which problematic situations are resolved; faith gives us the patience to await the unfolding of his will. No matter how bad things might get or appear to get, as long as one has hope, one can weather any storm, endure suffering and keep one’s faith. I mentioned in another article that my father and grandfather had to endure religious persecution under Japanese rule until the end of World War II. There was no way he could have known that the war would be over in 1945, especially because of the propaganda of war. But he trusted the Lord, continued to grow in his faith and saw the defeat of Imperial Japan without compromising his faith. It was his hope in the eternal which helped him to stay on the road of life and witness the resolution of his problematic situation with thanks.
How wonderful life would be if we could trust in the will of God, do our utmost to resolve problems peacefully through the principles of love, enable voluntary cooperation across borders, share ideas in order to innovate ourselves out of our boxes. In this way, one may try to imagine what the fulfillment of the hope of faith might be like. Rest assured that whatever it will be, it will always surprise us, and we will surely be inspired to continue to eagerly wait for the fulfillment of our hope in the eternal.