The metaphor of the Japanese boxes “Himitsu-bako”

The metaphor of the Japanese boxes "Himitsu-bako"

The concept of these puzzle boxes originated at the beginning of the 19th century in the region of Hakone (Japan) , where they were given as a souvenir to the people who visited the hot springs in the area. Its creator was Ryugoro Okawa.

This is a type of box that can only be opened through a series of very precise movements. Some boxes require only a few pieces to be slid into the right place; others require millimetric movements for each piece.

You can view a video about these boxes below:

What are Himitsu-bako boxes?

This week, the Mensalus Institute team explains the importance of understanding and respecting “the difference” through the metaphor of the Himitsu-Bako boxes.

What is the metaphor behind the puzzle box?

To begin with, each box is unique and so is the way it opens. As we mentioned, they are manufactured with different levels of complexity. For this reason, simple models require only two or three steps to open, while more complex models require a minimum of a thousand movements.

Something similar happens with conflict resolution. Every situation is unique, whatever its complexity, and requires a unique intervention strategy.

Every day we deal with situations that share similar processes. When there is learning and routine, the issues we address and resolve are like simple boxes. Yet every moment, every scenario, is unique. Likewise, throughout life we also encounter complex boxes that require time and attention. The solution requires more elaborate movements and, of course, many failed tests.

In the case of both simple and complex boxes, the trial-error is what signals the piece to be slid. Solutions flow with practice and take shape through learning and patience.

Does the metaphor of the boxes also apply to people?

Of course. Each person has unique tools (resources) that allow them to connect with the world, relate to themselves and others, cope with adversity, etc. This skill set is reflected in their system of thoughts and emotions. Each of us, in each situation, will think, feel and act differently (we will behave like a unique puzzle box).

What does this individual difference tell us?

Understanding that each person is a box and operates as such helps us to understand that there is no single reality and no single way of looking at life, while at the same time reminding us of the importance of empathizing with someone else’s “box”.

Sometimes it’s difficult to adapt to each other’s mode of operation…

Right. And not only because of the difference in views, but also because of the difference in life rhythms. For example, what for one is a moment of reflection or waiting, for another can be a waste of time.

Following the example of the vital rhythms, in teamwork the respect for the “other’s box” is a very important issue to be dealt with. The metaphor of the Himitsu-Bako boxes is a very graphic way of explaining that the intervention strategy will not depend only on the objective, but also on the people who participate in it and the synergies that are created when working.

This can also be extrapolated to other systems (e.g. the family or partnership context). The difference in rhythms when solving daily life issues can become a serious problem. When this happens, preserving an assertive communication style is one of the main challenges.

In this sense, what aspects can help in respecting the rhythm of others?

Firstly, avoid imposing our rhythm as the only valid structure. Rigid positions lead to discussions that are dominated by failed communicative strategies such as “escalation” (raising the tone and aggressiveness of the discourse in order to seek recognition) or omission (keeping quiet and holding on without sharing one’s opinion).

Understanding that the other person operates from his or her own way of interpreting reality reveals a world to us (new points of view) and complements our vision, either by reinforcing or subtracting power from our constructs (those words that shape our discourse and explain our values).

In times when communication is not efficient, how can the metaphor of the boxes help us?

If we don’t understand the box, we will hardly be able to open it (solve the puzzle). This understanding involves recognizing the need of the other, exposing one’s own need and analyzing the situation from both points of view.

Remembering the metaphor of the Himitsu-bako boxes is a way of making explicit the difference that characterizes each human being which, in turn, defines their essence (their way of thinking, feeling and acting).

Accepting the difference makes us more flexible and efficient in resolving conflicts. Moreover, such acceptance makes it easier for us to connect with others and helps us to enjoy the attraction of the exclusivity of each “box”.

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