The Glass Box

“Do me a favor, I want you to imagine you live in a glass box.”


“Done, I’m living in a glass box,” I said.


“In front of you is a button, you continuously press it, your entire life revolves around this button, it is making the world a better place.”


“What does the button do?” I asked.


“I just told you, it makes the world a better place. This button stands up for the little guy, educates the masses, it is as powerful as a gun and as timeless as novel. This button is progress, and all you have to do is press it.”

Deep house music was coming in waves from the massive desert party in the distance. It made everything we said seem more profound.


“Well, sounds like I have an absolutely awesome life,” I said.


“Not really,” Cheshire remarked, “outside of this glass box is a town square. You watch people doing what people do. Kids eating ice cream. A couple on a first date, as they overanalyze every movement, hoping they will get to kiss each other. A businessman pacing back and forth while he talks on the phone. Another person, just sitting on a bench, staring down at his feet. You watch these people all day and all night. These humans, living their lives, completely unaware that you are the one making their lives possible. So privileged, and they don’t even know it.”

“So I am all alone in the glass box?” I ask.

“No, no, you are not alone,” he replies. “to your right is a man, he is pulling a lever up and down, this lever pulling act is just as important as your button pressing.”

“We’re working in conjunction?” I ask.

“No, his work is just as important, but completely unrelated. Not that you believe this; I mean how could pulling a lever really make a difference? To your left is a woman, she is spinning a wheel round and round, and yes, her act is literally making this outside world possible as well.”

“So the three of us are basically God?” I said.

“Yup,” he replied, “you’re doing amazing things.”


“Do we take breaks? Do I get some sort of reward?”

“No,” he said, “in fact no one on the outside even appreciates what you do. Just the three of you. I mean you guys are close, sometimes you wanna bite each other’s heads off while you argue who is making the real difference. Sometimes you gang up with the other, claiming the lever pulling and wheel spinning is actually making the world worse; you might not even have to press this button if it were not for their actions.


But mostly, you just stay bitter at everyone on the outside. It’s okay though, it doesn’t always feel good, but if you don’t do it, who will? You’re a good person.


You do this for years and years, but then, everything changes instantly.


“What happens?” I ask.

“You die,” Cheshire says.



“But you don’t actually die,” he says, “The hospital messed up, you know like in bad horror film. You find yourself trapped in a body bag in the middle of an empty morgue. You unzip it and walk out of the hospital.


Soon, you are in that town square, the square you have spent your entire life looking at. You are now standing with the very people you had slowly learned to hate, as you watched them living their lives, as you vicariously lived through their highlight reels.


You walk over to where the glass box should be, but it is not there.


“Empty space?” I ask.


“No,” he says, “in its place is a box of mirrors. On one side of the box is a sort of handle, it’s just flipping up and down, up and down, doing nothing, it is attached to absolutely nothing. On  the other side you find a nub of a wheel, it is spinning in place. Around and around. Doing nothing, making no difference.


And then, you walk around to the back side; the side that would have been yours if this were the glass box; by now you know what is coming, but you have to see it for yourself. On that flat mirror, about the same height as the button you had been pressing your entire life, is a small peg, it is motionless, doing nothing, it would make no difference if it were.


The truth is, you had never been living in a glass box, you had been living in a box of two way mirrors. This box had no purpose except to keep you separate from the real world, it was built so you could shout and scream and feel like you were making a difference, while actually doing nothing.


“Well, that’s depressing,” I said.


Cheshire continued,


“I was working at a homeless shelter a few weeks ago, I was literally working with a drug addict who cursed at me while I tried to help her get a job and a place to live. I did my best to stay respectful, to treat her with dignity. It didn’t work, she cursed at me for being a horrible person while she left to go back out onto the streets, probably spend the night cracked out of her mind.


I don’t feel good about trying to help this person. I actually feel sick to my stomach, it makes me lose faith in humanity; and I would do it again, because that’s what we’re supposed to do, help people who have less. I don’t know how she got to this point, and I don’t know if I made any difference.


So I come home, try to veg out a bit, I watch a trailer for this remake of one of my favorite movies from the 80’s, but now with an all female cast; it looks absolutely horrific, I mean they completely missed the point. So I go on Facebook, write how bad the trailer looked, and I get called a misogynist for it. And I’m like what? Then more people come, calling me names, accusing me of things that I’m not even thinking about, then told I should be thinking about these things!


It’s like this war is happening right in front of me, all because I thought a movie looked bad.


And then it just hit me. I have been called homophobic for eating at a resturant, against equality because of a store I shop at, I have been called a sexist for not liking a character in a TV show, and anti-American for a band I listen too. I am being judged by the beliefs I hold, but not the actual things I do. It’s like your opinion is more important than you action.


So I did something, that first guy who called me a misogynist, I unfollowed him, I didn’t unfriend him, just unfollowed; they’ll think nothing has changed, but now everything he says is off my feed.


I thought I was avoiding something, you know creating a safe space for myself. Then I started unfollowing more people; I had a simple standard, I only followed people whose feed brought me joy; anyone who made me feel bad or whose opinions I did not respect, was gone.


I felt horrible at first, I couldn’t believe this is the person I have become, that I would just box off so much of reality; but I’m not, it all suddenly made sense; I was wrong, I was not avoiding reality, that world was never real.


This, this walk right now, this giant desert party, helping an asshole drug addict get help; that is real, that is reality, that is life.


It’s all these critics that are living the fantasy. These people shouting at their screens, telling us what is right and what is wrong. That is not reality. And here’s the thing, they are all giving us a perfect opportunity right now. We can just box them in, we can turn all these social networks and message boards into giant two way mirrored rooms. They think they are educating the world, but they are actually just yelling at themselves.


All the annoying people, all the people who hold us back, all the people who think they are making a real difference; we lock them up in that internet. All these useless people, living in their own creation, their own reality, not realizing that this is the hell they created.


Because here is the thing, I want you listen and really understand this; it’s important, it is the single most important thing happening in the world right now.


We are judging people because of their beliefs instead of their actions. We are creating an entire generation of people who define their own worth by the choices they make, instead of the things they actually do. You are a good person if you believe certain things, not because you create certain things. You are smart because you went to college, not because of what you have invented. You are special, because you think the right thoughts, not because of what you can provide. The fantasy has become your reality.


And they can’t even tell what fantasy is anymore.


“It’s pathetic, and everything is trying to pull me into that fake world. I refuse, I refuse to do it anymore. I don’t care about them anymore, so I put them all in a glass box. They yell and scream and think I am listening, and I don’t even know they exist.”  


And now that I am on the other side, now that I am living in Plato’s allegory of the cave, I see it everywhere. We are surrounded by products and causes and movements that are all designed to make you feel special by doing nothing; to make you feel like you are saving the world by living a life that looks like a sacrifice, but is actually debaucherous.


And if you are in my position, you can make a killing, it’s like Madison avenue circa 1955, but at least they called it advertising, now we call it being conscientious. We can manipulate the masses with words like sustainable and organic, and fair. The fantasy becomes the reality. People don’t even try anymore. They share articles about the benefits of growing your own vegetables, but never actually grow their own food. Life has become a series of life hacks that don’t even work. But you get this rush, sharing these things that you wish were true, but they are not. They will scream about oil while they drive their cars, yell about CO2 while they fly across the world to be cultured, they will protest as long as it is fun, and disrupt old monopolies as long as they can make a buck. Watch how they treat homeless people? Hell, watch how they treat their neighbors?


They never have to make the hard choices, their only sacrifice is that of their imagination.


These people don’t even know what real dignity is; I don’t mean that as a cut down, I mean it literally. They literally do not know how to be useful, they don’t even know what it looks like, they can’t conceive of it.  They think being right, is the same as making a difference. They think living the way the world should be is the same as changing that world into being.


But it’s okay, I’m fine with it all, I put them in a glass box; I don’t have to worry about them anymore.


-The story was over, we stopped and looked back towards the music. Fireworks shot up into the sky. The dark desert came alive for from small flashes of light, and then the dark came again.


“So what are you going to do?” Cheshire asked me.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I just showed you the truth,” he said.

“I need to stop living in that box,” I replied.

“That’s it?”

“I think I’m going to try to get the others out of the box too,” I said.

“Right, because you’re a good person,” he said.


“Weren’t you listening?” Cheshire asked, “didn’t you hear a word I said?”

“Yea I get it, I think,” I said.

“Oh you do? You missed the entire point. You’re right, you know the truth now, in fact you have evidence! You take pictures of the mirrored box, you take video of the spinning thing and the flipping lever. You find news articles about the history of the box, why it was built and when; you gather every single bit of evidence you can, and you run back to save your friends.


They are happy to see you, but too busy with their work to make a big deal out of it. You explain to them the truth of their home, their glass box, but of course, they don’t listen.


You pull out your phone, you show them pictures, it has no effect.


You click a link on your screen, and bring up old news articles about how the box was built up around them; your friends just continue pulling and spinning.


So you become more aggressive, you’re not going to give up! You hit another button on your screen showing them news articles, this one gets them arguing, they tell you to stop. Another button, a video of the actual construction of the glass box, how could they ignore this?! You have proof, undeniable proof and your friends will soon see the truth of their existence. So you continue.


Link after link on your phone, you press the button to search, you press the button to play, you press the button on your phone over and over again, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt, doing everything you know how to do. You will not waste your life anymore, you will make a real difference!


So you press the button, again and again, you press the button, for years this goes on, pressing the button, pressing the button, pressing the button, pressing the button.


…And then you die.
But this time you are actually dead.

Author: John-Michael Thomas

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