How Big Is the Box You’re In? Are Your Lines Drawn with Permanent Marker?

cubes and wooden boxes


I sometimes challenge myself and my clients to spend time listening without passing judgement on what other people are saying. It is impossible to really do it, but when I try to do it, I realize how many judgements I make every minute. Before someone finishes a thought, I think I know what their point will be based on the first thing they said. When I pay attention to the conversation rather than trying to jump forward in my head, I often learn that my assumption was incorrect.

Listening and trying to focus your mind to be present in a conversation is critical to understanding. I am probably stating the obvious.

As I continued to listen during the month of August, the image of people drawing lines in the sand came to mind. They draw the line in the sand to block out specific information or people. “I am done with this person or situation. No one had better cross this line,” they are saying in my imaginings. In the case of the sand, though, the tide comes in and washes the line away. There is hope for a change of heart.

The next vision that popped into my head was a box with someone inside it. Each time the person drew a line, their box shrank. As the box became smaller and smaller, the person disappeared so completely that they literally drew themselves into non-existence. Other people lost sight of them, because they were buried in their boxes.

This vision brought me to tears, and yet, I know many of us are happily containing ourselves in ever-shrinking boxes. If they lines we drew were in the sand, they could wash away over time. If we used pencil instead of permanent marker, we could easily erase the lines as we learned more and as we became more understanding. If our cubes were made only of cardboard, we could break out. I fear that, for many, the box is made of solid steel.

It made me wonder what substance could penetrate the boxes. How do those of us on the outside reach those on the inside? Then it occurred to me: we think we are gaining control over people and ideas by blocking them out of our lives. Actually, the opposite is true.

We lose our power by drawing lines and shrinking into our boxes.

Mary balistreri, the mindful business coach

By refusing to participate in the world, we give up the power to voice our own thoughts and ideas. We lose the possibility of finding a person who may support us. We block out the possibility that an idea or piece of information might help us reach our goals. Some boxes group together believing there is safety in numbers. As long as everyone agrees to everything, life will be perfect, right? In this case, I feel confident saying never, it is never the case. We create an echo chamber that is void of innovation, thought, and collaboration. Everyone loses.

Sometimes it is important to block a person from your life. Not every relationship is good for you. Sometimes it is important to leave a toxic environment. Not every place is the place you need to be.

Ultimately, be mindful of generalizations that build your box. Your difficulty may be with one person, not all the people similar to that person. You may disagree with one idea, but not with all the ideas that are different from your own. Growth demands innovation. Innovation demands variety in thought. Think about it and spend some time listening.

For more information contact Mary Balistreri, The Mindful Business Coach at

Published by Mary Balistreri

Mary Balistreri offers a variety of coaching and professional development services to individuals and organizations focused on harnessing strengths to develop more business. Mary’s approach is goal driven, focusing on measurable results and developing actionable plans to move past obstacles that hold individuals, teams, and organizations back from executing on the plan. Mary offers expertise in business development, team building, and leadership development coupled with strategies to improve conversational and emotional intelligence to support clients moving toward their goals and aspirations.

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