Coloring Outside the Lines

Nearly every child learns the importance of coloring inside the lines. We learn to be very careful, because the lines are there to help us. They are important.

As we grow older we learn the value of coloring outside the lines.

Everyone who has ever learned to play a musical instrument must go through exercises, scales, modes, and musical theory. Then as we develop in our musical ability we learn to color outside the musical lines with accidentals, improvisation, and interpretation. An athlete must do repetitive drills and strict training before he can add his own style and flair. A painter must learn how to operate within the bounds of color, shading, and perspective before successfully pushing the boundaries into abstraction and stylization.

In every area of life we must learn to follow the rules. We have to learn to work within the structure and boundaries set up for us. Boundaries and rules are the guides that allow us to learn and grow. We will never grow from immaturity to maturity unless we learn to follow the rules.

But . . . there is a certain level that we will never achieve unless we learn to break the rules.

Innovators, those who move humanity forward, always work outside the lines. Galileo rejected the accepted view that the earth was the center of the universe, and he launched a new era of scientific understanding. Martin Luther rejected the (corrupt) religious structure of his time, and changed the world forever. The revolutionary founders of the United States would not abide with the monarchical system of government they lived under. Albert Einstein would not accept the Newtonian explanation of the universe that dominated science in his time. Thomas Edison refused to surrender his idea that he could create artificial light. Wilbur and Orville Wright would not accept that mankind was not meant to fly. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. Kurt Cobain refused to accept that music had to sound a certain way.

Those who accept the system of boundaries presented to them will never be world-changers. They will be a part of the system and will be forgotten by time.

Coloring outside the lines is difficult, and many are unwilling. People who color outside the lines will always be criticized and condemned by their contemporaries. Innovators, radicals, and revolutionaries have always been labelled as trouble-makers, rebels, heretics, crazies, tools of the devil, and enemies of the state. They are rejected, marginalized, exiled, imprisoned, and burned at the stake. Even those of us who celebrate revolution in one generation will fight against it from the next. Revolutionaries, though, are always necessary.

There is a line from the beginning of the movie The Departed that I love. “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”

Do you want your environment to be a product of you? If so, then you must learn the lines, love the lines, and then move beyond the lines. Change the world; color outside the lines.

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