We’ve all had experiences when someone won’t change their view even though all the evidence is stacked against them. This can be frustrating, but how can you prevent yourself from becoming that person? In this article I will be discussing what a paradigm is, why it is harmful to allow your paradigm to become ossified, and how you can grow your paradigm.
The definition of paradigm, I will be using for the purpose of this article, is the lens in which you see the world. What I mean by this, is how you think of the world around you. It is surprising to recognize how much of what we think of as absolute is actually just a mental construct. Think about it. Social hierarchies, the value of money, the borders between states, and so much more that just live in our heads. With this understanding, it is easy to see how assuming your paradigm is equivalent to reality can be extremely damaging, not only to others, but especially yourself.
Critical thinkers use their paradigm and philosophy to automatically apply their thinking to everything around them. This is a very good skill to have. Especially since the alternative is to not apply your thinking to anything and assume the way things should be done is the way everybody does them. You shouldn’t assume that everybody is wrong, and latching your identity onto defying social norms can be damaging if you are doing everything differently even if a social norm does make sense. But the thing that becomes a problem is how do you make sure that the paradigm you have that is defining your thinking is correct or reasonable? How do you make sure that your critical thinking isn’t actually damaging yourself or others?
This becomes quite a challenging conundrum when you realize that you can’t actually see your paradigm. Since, if you think about it, you will be trying to see your paradigm through your paradigm. That’s like trying to differentiate blue against other colors with blue colored glasses.
So one way to try and grow your paradigm with this in mind is through meditation. This is because with mediation you are trying to mitigate all thoughts, and therefore are mitigating any instance where your paradigm is applicable. Meditation is almost like trying to look reality in the face. Obviously this is impossible since reality is too complicated to conceive. This is the reason why we have paradigms, is because we need some way of trying to think about it all even if it is going to be simplistic.
Also, through mediation, you can gain a new perspective by trying to look at things like it’s the first time you’ve seen it. This is very hard because with time you build preconceptions about everything you’ve come in contact with. But by trying to dispose of your preconceptions you can see how those preconceptions are not in line with reality.
One thing I want to mention is how hard it is to try to grow our paradigm. Of course all of us want to believe that our paradigm is correct. But by realizing that it is never going to encapsulate everything, and by trying to grow your paradigm, you have to admit to your own ignorance. Also, by consciously trying to grow your paradigm, you may, and probably will, encounter things that undermine core beliefs that you’ve held your entire life. Facing up to these inconsistencies between reality and your paradigm takes tremendous amounts of courage. Especially since it will leave you with a lot of “what ifs” thinking about how things could’ve been better if you recognized these inconsistencies earlier. Do the cost benefit analysis in your head. Although it will be incredibly painful to try to adapt your paradigm, then you will have the rest of your life with a slightly more accurate paradigm. And that will help you tremendously more than you probably think.
The second way you can grow your paradigm is by talking to people with a different paradigm than you, which is everybody. Really listen to what they are saying and how they think. As mentioned before, while listening try to dispose of your preconceptions. If you have an immediate instinct to disagree with something or to attack it, that probably means that something someone said is undermining your paradigm. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong. But you should pay attention to these moments because it tells you something about yourself and your paradigm. Analyse it, and start to pay really close attention to what the other person is saying because this is a key opportunity to try and grow your paradigm.
By listening to the other person, you are not admitting that your paradigm is false. All you are doing is trying to see if perhaps your paradigm can be improved. Of course, this is very hard, but can also be tremendously beneficial. An important part of growing your paradigm is knowing what you don’t know, and also knowing that oftentimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Aila discusses this in more depth at this link: https://www.wequil.com/post/not-knowing
The last thing I will mention on how to grow your paradigm is to try new things and to have new experiences. This is where you don’t have any preconceptions so it can help you grow your paradigm. It also gives you more data points to map out your understanding of the world. Just living your daily routine, and never trying new things can quickly result in the ossification of your paradigm. Perhaps your paradigm works perfectly fine, and seems true based on your daily activities and the situations you are usually in, but putting yourself in new situations will challenge the effectiveness of your paradigm.
An extremely important part of growing your paradigm is seeing how your paradigm is actually damaging. One example is “beauty standards”. Something that I’ve noticed is many people talking about the extremely high beauty standards. The thing that puts me off is that although there are many pictures of models in magazines and marketing posts, almost nobody is actually saying that they expect you to look like the people in these photos. Therefore demonstrating that the beauty standard is actually imposed upon yourself. It is a mental construct you created for yourself based on how you expect yourself to look. This is a paradigm that causes a lot of misery to people, but is something that can be avoided by just changing your paradigm!
Another way that paradigms commonly cause damage is believing that you are unable to do something. This is because that belief will then make it so that you then aren’t able to do whatever you believe you can’t do. The reason isn’t because you are unable to do it, but because your belief restricts you. For example a belief that you have no control over your own happiness. This belief then makes it so that now you are inhibiting yourself from controlling your happiness. The state of the world will always be suboptimal, and by thinking that you cannot control your own happiness and it is controlled by whether the world is acting the way you want it to, you are dooming yourself to misery.
This same example can be applied to many other things as well, but that one specific example is the cause for much of people's sadness. Of course there are legitimate reasons to be sad. But when you look around most people's happiness does not equate to the reality of the situation that they are in. That’s another way that your paradigm can greatly damage you. You don’t want a paradigm that makes everything seem gloomy, but at the same time I wouldn’t say wearing rose colored glasses is optimal either. I would say the goal of growing your paradigm is to get it as close to reality as possible while knowing it is impossible to have no inconsistencies. Another goal is to change your paradigm to increase happiness. However you should not change your paradigm to increase happiness if it is at the expense of being consistent with reality.
Your paradigm can control whether you are miserable in the best situation, or content and grateful in the worst situation. The most powerful step forward is realizing that you can grow your paradigm, and knowing that your paradigm is not equivalent to reality. At the end of the day you could argue that the worst paradigm to have is where you don’t believe that you can change your paradigm, and that your paradigm is the same as reality.
By Sumay Lu