Imagine that you are on a train, it is a peaceful scene. People are reading, listening to music, and you decide to shut your eyes to take a nap. As you try to relax, in walks a father and his children. The calm scene is ruined. The children are running up and down the train car and nobody knows what to do. Meanwhile, the children’s father is sitting down with a blank expression on his face. You think to yourself, “Why is he not doing anything? Doesn’t he know that his kids are out of control?” Eventually, you can’t take it anymore and say, “Excuse me, don’t you think you could control your kids a little better?” The father immediately snaps out of his blank stare with a concerned look in his eyes and says, “Oh, I’m sorry…I guess I should control them more. I’m sorry, I just don’t really know how to act right now. We just got back from the hospital and their mother just passed away from cancer.”
How does your outlook on the situation change? How do you view the father’s apathy now? This exact scenario was one that Stephen Covey explained in his New York Times Best-Selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Stephen Covey reacted by asking the man if there was anything that he could do to help. Covey’s attitude toward the situation had completely changed. No longer did he see the withdrawn father as an irresponsible parent, but he now viewed him as a heartbroken father. I believe that each person might have had their own unique response to a situation like this, but it illustrates one of life’s most important concepts. The paradigm shift.
A paradigm shift, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary is, “A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” Our paradigm changes the moment we discover that everything we thought we knew, was wrong. We begin to understand a situation with fresh eyes. The secret to any type of real change, starts with a shift in our thinking. A paradigm shift begs the questions…
- How do I view myself/them/the situation?
- Why do I view myself/them/the situation that way?
- Do I need to shift my thinking?
- How do I shift my thinking?
One of the greatest examples of a paradigm shift came over 2,000 years ago with the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to eradicate the worshiping of knowledge and the neglecting of love. The Pharisees were the most respected academics in the church, but they neglected the lepers, the impoverished, the widows, the prostitutes, the immigrants, and the disabled. They had built their view of God on the underlying assumption, that God favored those who could recite his word. Jesus came with a new paradigm. The new paradigm turned everything that the Pharisees had built their life on, upside down. Jesus treated the untouchables of society with the underlying assumption that they were children of God and he did not define people by their worst qualities.
With any important decision in our lives we need to ask, “From what paradigm am I making this decision?” Life’s most important questions will come whether we are ready or not. Who will I marry? What will I do for work? How will I treat people? What do I want to be remembered for? I recommend Stephen Covey’s method of answering the most important questions with the end of your life in mind. Too many people are going through life as Lemmings. The remarkable thing about a Lemmings behavior is that once one of the little creatures go off a cliff, the rest will follow. Why? Because Lemmings have no capability for thought and no room for paradigms, and so they rely on the instincts of their peers. We cannot afford to go through life based on the momentum of our peers. The stakes are too high. It is time to evaluate our own paradigms and fight back against the broken systems of distraction, anger, selfishness, and apathy.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” – Henry David Thoreau