Almost heaven, West Virginia / Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River. When those musical words hit the ears, it’s commonplace for just about everybody’s brain to follow with: take me home, country roads. The song, released in 1971 and one of John Denver’s biggest hits, was written by a fellow named Bill Danoff and it is now the official state song of West Virginia. Interestingly, when Danoff wrote the song he had never set foot in West Virginia. He just thought it sounded better than Massachusetts, his home state, even if The Bay State was almost heaven to him. Mountain mamas, moonshine, and country roads in The Mountain State were figments of his imagination. He surely didn’t belong there.
Imagination is the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful. It most often means thinking outside the box. Imagination leads to all kinds of heretofore unthought of inventions. Almost always it means thinking outside the box.
Take Dick Fosbury who is considered one of the most influential athletes in the history of track and field. Winning a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics, Fosbury jumped higher over the bar than anyone had before. Prior to his imaginative thinking, the way to jump a bar was to keep the body parallel to the bar. Fosbury set a world record by turning his back on the bar and flipping over it backward. The Fosbury Flop is still widely used today in the high jump.
The box is a constriction on exploration and innovation. Some suggest that Jesus’ last seven words on the cross were: But we’ve always done it that way. The early American box said that women should not vote or be doctors because of inferior brain power. Teddy Roosevelt (and millions who thought like him) were boxed in by the conviction that white Americans would be better off if ninety percent of the Native American population were dead. “Men will never fly, because flying is reserved for the angels.” So said Milton Wright, father of Wilbur and Orville. His box thinking was revolutionized outside Kitty Hawk, NC by his two sons on December 17, 1903. The box said boys should keep their hair a certain length, and in the 50s and 60s some parents even disowned sons who rebelled with Beatles-style cuts.
Another term for boxed-in thinking is closed-mindedness. A huge portion of the time it results in negative consequences, oftentimes deleterious in the extreme. The opposite is open-mindedness. A huge portion of the time it results in progress characterized by freshness and sanguinity.
Imaginative thinking outside the box. Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. did so when he changed his name to John Denver.