I was speaking to someone this week and they made the point, with pride, that they like to “think outside of the box”. Now, this was in the context of religion and spirituality. This is a pretty common thing to hear because we don’t like to be thought of as stuck in a rut of our own paradigm…closed to new ideas and concepts. In the realm of evangelical Christianity, I remember, sitting in church services where it was stated or prayed asking the Holy Spirit to lead us wherever he would want, and to do whatever he would want to in our lives…we were open to his direction no matter what. This sounds good…taking the restrictions away from our thinking and being open to new things that we haven’t considered…a way of thinking and being willing to be “outside of the box”.
The problem of the matter is, however, that there almost definitely is a box that is slightly larger than the one we refer to when we speak like this…and this, slightly larger box that contains the smaller box is not one that we are open to living or thinking outside of at all. There are things that we all hold tightly to in life….paradigms of politics, religion, spirituality or even culture. These are the structures of living that have worked for us and allow us to function in a life and world that is anything but certain. And so we fiercely guard these paradigms as if our lives depend upon them…and to a degree our lives do depend on seeing the world through these lenses. Most of the time, most of us are willing to “negotiate” some paradigm shifts that would alter our views and behaviors, but only to a limited degree. We cannot tolerate a complete abandonment of life paradigms that have worked for us and for which we have invested so much of our time and energy. For some, guarding and promoting these paradigms is a practical way of earning an income, and so there is a vested interest in not being open to new ideas.
A very basic way of looking at this would be something like this: I have successfully lived seeing the world as blue. I am in my late middle age years and seeing everything through blue lenses has been quite successful…for the most part. But I am not closed minded…I realize that blue may not be the only way of seeing the world, and so I relish seeing the world differently and even getting a new prescription for my lenses. In fact, I told my lens professional that on my new set of lenses I want the edges to fade into a lighter shade of blue at the bottom, a darker shade at the top and even the sides to be a type of blue/green, or turquoise shade. He was taken aback by this but agreed to do it. When we got talking about this, he said that one of his customers who used blue lenses had come in and wanted to switch to red lenses! “Wow!” I replied. “I would never even consider doing that because, as we all know, seeing the world through blue lenses is the way to see it accurately.” And he agreed.
And so it is with ourselves and others. When changes in our paradigms do occur, they are usually incremental in nature. And the impetus for change is usually not someone else convincing us of their great insight. Change is embraced when we discover something true for ourselves, and this often takes a crisis in our lives to help us along the path of walking in the truth.