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The Power Of A Paradigm

Turn your phone to the right. What do you see when you look at this picture? A young or old lady? Keep this in mind when you read further.

We need to understand our own "paradigms" and how to make a "paradigm shift."

Both the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic are examples of social paradigms. The word PARADIGM comes from the Greek and means a model, theory, perception, assumption, or frame of reference. In the more general sense, it's the way we SEE the world - not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, interpreting.

A simple way to understand paradigms is to see them as maps. The map is not the territory, it's an explanation of certain aspects of the territory. That's exactly what a paradigm is. It's a theory , an explanation, or model of something else.

Suppose you want to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help. But suppose you were given the wrong map. Through a printing error, the map labeled "Chicago" was actually a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

You might work on your BEHAVIOUR - you could try harder, be more diligent, double your speed. But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster. You might work on your ATTITUDE - you could think more positively. You still wouldn't get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn't care. Your attitude would be so positive, you'd be happy wherever you were. The point is, you'd still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behaviour or your attitude. It has everything to do with having a wrong map.

If you have the right map of Chicago, THEN diligence becomes important, and when you encounter frustrating obstacles along the way, THEN attitude can make a real difference. But the first and most important requirement is the acuracy of the map. Each of us has many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of THE WAY THINGS ARE, or REALITIES, and maps of THE WAY THINGS SHOULD BE, or VALUES. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we're usually even unaware that we have them. We simply ASSUME that the way we see things is the way they are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviours grow out of those assumptions. The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act.

Let's get back to the picture... Do you see a woman of about 25 years old- very lovely, rather fashionable with a petite nose and a demure presence? If you were a single man you might like to take her out. What if I said this picture is of a woman in her 60's or 70's who looks sad, has a huge nose, and is certainly no model. She's someone you probably would help across the street.

If we were talking face to face, we could discuss it. We could communicate until you clearly showed me what you see and I can clearly show you what I see. It's important that you see the old woman before you continue. Can you see her big hook nose? Her shawl?

An instructor used this to demonstrate clearly and eloquently that two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It's not logical; it's psychological. He brought into the room a stack of large cards, half of which had an image of a young woman and the other half an image of an old woman. He passed them out to the class, the picture of the young woman to one side of the room and the picture of the old woman to the other. He asked them to study the picture for ten seconds. He then projected the picture you saw, combining both images and asked the class to describe what they saw. Those who had first seen the young woman's image on a card saw the young woman in the picture. Those who were given the old woman's image on a card saw an old woman in the picture.

It shows how powerfully conditioning affects our perceptions, our paradigms. If ten seconds can have that kind of impact on the way we see things, what about the conditioning of a lifetime? The influences in our lives - family, school, church, work environment, friends, associates, and current social paradigms such as the Personality Ethic - all have their silent unconscious impact on us and help shape our frame of reference, our paradigms, our maps.

It also shows that these paradigms are the source of our attitudes and behaviours. We cannot act with integrity outside of them. We simply cannot maintain wholeness if we talk and walk differently than we see. If you were among 90% who typically see the young woman in the composite picture when conditioned to do so, you undoubtedly found it difficult to think in terms of helping her cross the street. Both your ATTITUDE about her and your BEHAVIOUR toward her had to be congruent with the way you SAW her.

To try to change outward attitudes and behaviours does very little good in the long run if we fail to examine the basic paradigms from which those attitudes and behaviours flow. It also shows how powerfully our paradigms affect the way we interact with other people. As clearly and objectively as we think we see things, we begin to realize that others see them differently from their own apparently equally clear and objective point of view.

We tend to think we see things as they are, that we are OBJECTIVE. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as IT IS but as WE ARE - or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them. But, as the demonstration shows sincere, clearheaded people see things differently, each looking through the unique lens of experience. This doesn't mean that there are no facts. In the demonstration, two individuals who initially have been influenced by different conditioning pictures look at the third picture together. They are now both looking at the same identical facts - black lines and white spaces - and they would both acknowledge these facts. But each person's interpretation of these facts represents prior experiences, and the facts have no meaning whatsoever apart from the interpretation.

The more aware we are of our basic paradigms, maps, or assumptions, and the extent to which we have been influenced by our experience, the more we can take responsibility for those paradigms, examine them, test them against reality, listen to others and be open to their perceptions, thereby getting a larger picture and a far more objective view.


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