Don’t Settle for Institutionalization
A famous line from, indisputably the №1 movie of all time, The Shawshank Redemption, was Red’s take on prison life:
“These walls are funny. First, you hate them. Then, you get used to them. Enough time passes, you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”
Institutionalization is mentioned repeatedly in the film as the prisoners assume a new status quo. It refers to a process of changing the prisoner’s original behaviors and thoughts to accept and depend on their current situation little by little. This aspect gradually robs the individual of hope and, eventually, moral imagination. I say, if there is one physical manifestation of a limit, it is prison.
Red is saying this to Andy, who, unlike Red, is replete with hope. As we progress through the story, Andy strived to make prison a better place. He built a library, managed financial matters, and taught his fellows to read. Unlike most inmates, Andy went beyond the status quo his prison caged him in. His character portrays a heightened sense of moral imagination which allowed him to use what was available and elevate the condition of his surroundings.
By all means, Andy should’ve been institutionalized under normal circumstances. But we can take Andy as an example of a person that can think and go beyond his limits — even limits compressed by prison.
In life, we have our versions of being institutionalized. Although milder than prison, our various situations require us to follow specific rules and regulations. We slowly adapt to our environments, and we grow accustomed to our status quos.
However, in our quest for the greater good, these limits set by our status quo often inhibit us from viewing our actions from every perspective. We sometimes fail to consider everyone when making decisions — much to the dismay of the people affected.
We tend to approach difficulties assuming that it will be an extension of the present — as the status quo provides us the level of certainty and comfort that we yearn for.
The institutionalization we all face can be a handicap when faced with problems in the future. We tend to approach difficulties assuming that it will be an extension of the present — as the status quo provides us the level of certainty and comfort that we yearn for.
However, the future and its challenges are all VUCA-like or volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and what we now know may not be enough to reach a solution with the best outcome for everyone involved. We have to go beyond our personal status quos.
Challenge Your Personal Status Quo
The concept of consistently challenging the status quo, be it yours or your surroundings, can significantly aid your ability to create strategic decisions. It allows you to optimize your current level of thinking to explore the different angles your choices may affect.
When you challenge your limits, you are open to identifying how you can add value to others, not just yourself. Challenging your personal status quo nourishes your moral imagination. Institutionalization doesn’t bind you like the others, allowing you to serve as a beacon to your surroundings. You are open to thinking outside the box, like Andy (or, in his case, prison).
However, going beyond your limits and challenging your status quo will be a taxing endeavor — that is why not everyone does it. If you are in your comfort zone, enjoying the benefits of institutionalization, why bother? Because this is the road to growth, not just for ourselves but for others too.
By transcending our limitations, we can reach into areas that we would never have — and in the process, hopefully, do someone a favor. It is worth a try. Remember,
It is only when you venture to the edge of your limits that your limits will expand.
Leo is an electrical engineer, MBA candidate, and public speaker. He writes as a hobby. Follow his page on productivity and personal finance on Facebook here.