Monday, April 28, 2008

Random Thoughts - Paradigm Shifts

What are paradigms as applied in the layman’s context and how do we shift such paradigms?

I personally find that this concept has been best illustrated by Dr. Stephen R. Covey in his bestselling book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". In fact, one of the very first topic that he covered in this book was in relation to paradigms. Simply put, a paradigm is basically the metaphorical lens which we look through when we view the world at large. Dr. Covey maintained that that if you want to make small changes in your life, you only need to change your ways. But if you want to make quantum leaps, you would need to change your paradigms.

Dr. Covey narrated a story to illustrate his case on paradigms. He got onto a quiet train one Sunday morning, where some people were asleep while others were reading the newspaper. Yet some others were chatting softly.

All of a sudden, the door to the train opened and a man got onto the train with his kids. The kids were extremely obnoxious. They were running around screaming and yelling. Dr. Covey and a few others on the train could not help but look over at the man to see if he was going to discipline them in some way, shape or form. The man, however, just sat there staring into space with a blank look on his face, almost oblivious to the way the children were behaving.

After a few more minutes of the disturbance and the man's lack of action to do anything about it, Dr. Covey felt obliged to say a few words to the man. He asked him if he was going to do anything about the obnoxious behaviour and began pointing out exactly how erratic the children were in fact acting.

The man then looked over at the children and then looked over at Dr. Covey and said "you're right, they are acting obnoxious but after all, they did just come from the hospital where their mother passed away a few hours ago."

Shocked and then instantly embarrassed, Dr. Covey's feelings immediately changed from the need to instruct the man to the need to console him and show him empathy for his loss.

What had happened was that Dr. Covey's paradigm has changed or shifted in that instance just after the man spoke. You would have noticed that the situation had remained exactly the same. The train was still silent. The children were still disrupting everyone else and the man was still doing nothing about it. What changed was the lens with which Dr. Covey was viewing these events through.

Many times, people can look at the same thing and see different things. The reason for this is that we all see the world through different paradigms. In a more generic sense, there is no event or circumstance in this world which has any intrinsic meaning until we attribute a meaning to it. The meaning we attribute to the event or circumstance then forms a paradigm for each of us. This paradigm then become part of our belief system which we will apply to other similar events and circumstances. Since we tend to attribute different meanings to the same event or circumstance, we will then react very differently to this event or circumstance after we filter it through our own paradigms and beliefs.

As I have always maintained, there are always 3 sides to any arguments, and they are yours, mine and the hypothetical right side.

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