Big Box Thinking

Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

New-ish friend and somewhat-regular blog reader, Jessica, noticed a brief aside in this post not too long ago, and encouraged me to take some time to flesh out the thoughts that I previously quickly prohibited. (They were not directly related to the post being written then, and they also would have likely nearly doubled the length.) I did want to elaborate on the thought—at some point—but hadn’t gotten back to it yet.

Then today, I happened to hear someone lamenting that, “Nowadays, traveling state-to-state, you just see all the same things. The same stores, restaurants, etc. It’s all the same. But we’re not the same!

Amen, said I.

That’s precisely my point. I believe the previous context was the emphasis we place on the election of the person to the office of President; the weight which we put on participation in this quadrennial event as opposed to the annual (and sometimes more often) elections for people who actually matter more to us in our daily lives.

Somehow we’ve gotten this idea that homogenous experiences trump individual, unique ones.

And so, all of our restaurants are the same. All of the stores we shop at are the same. In a few cases, what used to be many stores are all found in one place now. There is no difference from one city or state to the next, save a few landmarks and geographical differences. (And maybe the way they talk?)

And how could there be? We can travel around the world within a day. In fact, who needs to travel? We can be virtually anywhere at any time, thanks to technology. The “communities” we live in are getting smaller and smaller (along with being more homogenous) due to the accessibility we have to each other.

But is that all it is? Technology? I don’t think so. It feels like more. It seems like more. There is a general desire for a uniform experience, even uniform thinking. This is certainly a quality of human nature. It’s why peer pressure exists (and works), and it’s been employed by and on everyone for, well, probably since we came into existence.

The question is, does that truly agree with our nature? Is that the best thing for us?

As is quite obvious (despite our best efforts to hide it)… we are all different. E-ver-y, single, one of us. We might honestly have much in common with some folks we know, maybe especially our family, but when it comes down to it, we all are somehow, someway different from one another—maybe especially our family!

And that is how God designed us. He clearly made us with unique individual personalities and temperaments, likes and dislikes (loves and hates!), and he even made it more obvious with our outward appearance. As much as we are vastly different “on the inside”, we are just as obviously different “on the outside”. From skin tone to hair color (or lack of hair… color) to shapes of bodies to facial features; the list goes on and on.

We are different. Unique.

So why do we try to be the same?

Do you remember the segment on Sesame Street when we were growing up, “One of these things is not like the other…” The point of the activity was to look at several items and point out the one that was different. In that case, different was wrong, to be singled out and removed, changed to match the rest.

Hmmm… we learn things early in life, I guess?

The political stage is another great example of this. Maybe especially the current environment in our country. You are either liberal/Democrat or conservative/Republican. There are some who are “independent”—including Yours Truly who often trumpets his own libertarian leanings—but really, it often feels like most people are in one camp or the other. Then, depending on your location/current surroundings, there’s generally a consensus one way or the other on the “proper” worldview or ideology. Kinda scary, actually.

When we look at the commercial scene, the ubiquitous homogeneity continues. Chain restaurants are the most popular establishments, and can be found everywhere. When we traveled the country performing our music from ~2000 to ~2005, we discovered chains out west that we didn’t have here in the east, but even many of those are here now, and vice versa. (Not completely, of course. The general direction does seem to be toward being omnipresent, though.) For retail there are the Wal-marts, Targets, Costcos, etc. Each shopping mall across America also houses basically the same list of stores.

Is this good?

I was recently thinking about those restaurants. Even though I do enjoy their food, the fact that it is exactly the same food, same decor, same everything… kind of makes me question the reality of the food I’m consuming there. I mean, in order to achieve such a level of homogeneity, one would assume that there is at least a lack of fresh, local ingredients involved. (And in some cases, one might even question whether the homogenous product is actually consumable…)

(Note: One of our favorites of the chain restaurants is Chipotle. And, while they may meet most of the undesirable “chain” qualifications, I do believe they are somewhat unique in their use of local farms and fresh, local ingredients. Or, it may be that their delicious food has me very biased on this occasion…)

But not everyone is like this. (We are unique, remember?) There are folks who value their local retailers and eateries and groceries—does Wegmans count as our local grocer?? And there are people who care about local politics, local issues, local communities.

Is that better? I’m not sure. I keep coming back to it. I think we are made inside a fairly small enclosure (some of us larger than others) and when it comes down to it, we are only barely in control of just that: us. Everything else is out of our hands. So with our limited control, resources, abilities, and the whole being fixed to one place in time and space thing… it seems like smaller is what we’re made for.

Simpler. Nearer. More focus, more attention, more care given to where we are, who we are with.

Doesn’t that then spill over into the rest of our life? Being that we’re all in different places, with the potentially fewer relationships that cross our paths (though that can change many times over a long lifespan) … does that not precipitate a more unique experience?

I can definitely see the other side. The more experiences you have, the more different people you know, the more different you will be! But the other side of the coin seems to be that the greater our reach geographically, the more we want it to look and be the same.

I’m not really advocating one way over another here, just fleshing out some thoughts that have been surfacing in my brain every now and again. I do think we are made for simpler. But I am also completely aware of the fact that this might be part of my uniqueness. I might be made to be simpler? Perhaps.

However it turns out for you, just remember that you are unique. That could mean that you match a group of friends on 90% of your likes and dislikes and philosophies and worldviews.

But there’s still 10% that’s just you. And that’s definitely something to celebrate.

(Maybe with a nice dinner at your local diner?) 🙂

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