I imagine as if whatever social conditioning I received, created a mental cage for me.
What divides the inside of the cage and the outside of the cage is what you are conditioned to think is possible and what you are conditioned to think is impossible. You might think that you have actually thought you can do something or you can’t do something, but it’s possible that you haven’t and that social conditioning is making you think that you have thought about those things without actually thinking about them thoroughly.
This can be harmful in many cases, especially when you automatically feel that you can’t do something, which you could do.
I also imagine that the cage’s gate is widely open or that you have the key to open that gate, but you are conditioned not to escape from the cage even though you can do that easily if you want. I don’t know why the cage is designed that way, but that’s how it is done.
So, imagine that you are in a mental cage of your own. What would you do?
1. Do nothing. Let’s say the mental cage is rather comfortable. You might notice you could escape from the case, or you might not. But you are more inclined towards staying there, because you’re safe in the cage. So, you might as well stay there and live a peaceful life.
2. Do something. You’re not happy that you’re captured in the cage. Why would you stay when you could be outside the cage and do more? Good news: Once you choose to get out of the cage, it’s easy to do so. The gate is pretty much non-existent. Bad news: You’re conditioned to stay away from that gate. So, you are scared shitless to go through the gate. What would you do?
2.1. Do nothing. OK, back to 1, really. You’ve entertained the thought of being free from the mental cage, but you eventually decide to stay in the cage. Social conditioning won. But hey, it’s not a bad place after all… or so they say.
2.2. Do something. You’re scared shitless, but you realize you were conditioned to feel that way and nothing terrible happens even if you go through the gate. So, you do go through the gate. Nothing terrible happens. Congratulations, you are free from the mental cage.
But then what happens?
Maybe the mental cage was in a bigger mental cage, though the gate for this bigger cage is widely open as well. Maybe you’ll have to go through a few more gates in order to be free from mental cages.
I think of my own mental cage situation this way. I realized I was in a mental cage, and I managed to escape from a few, but I’m sure I’ll find more gates to go through. The keys to the gates seem to be 1) realizing you’re in a mental cage, 2) questioning assumptions you have, and 3) choosing what works for you and knowing why you choose it that way.
For example, I tend to be polite in a Japanese way (whatever that means). I realize this tendency of mine is something I got through social conditioning. It’s a mental cage. I ask myself about the idea of politeness in this cultural specific way. It might work in other cultural contexts or it might not.
Let’s say I consider pros and cons and I reach the conclusion that I want to be polite as much as possible in any circumstance. That’s what works for me, and I want to be polite, because I think that’s a good way to show respect to others in any context. OK, why do I think that’s a good way? I could keep asking questions like this and dig deeper.
The point here is that the idea of being polite turned from something that was shoved to me by social conditioning to something I chose by going through these steps above.
This is how you escape from your mental cages.
One of the stories that inspired me and keep inspiring me most is Franz Kafka’s short story called Before The Law. The idea of mental cage as I wrote above was inspired by this story as well. I highly recommend you to read it.
Let me ask again. Imagine you are in a mental cage. What would you do?
I refuse to live in a mental cage that society shoved to me. I choose to get out and I choose mental freedom.