Paradigms: Understanding What Lies at the Root of Our Perception

Jun 05, 2021

A paradigm may be defined as “the basic way of perceiving, thinking, valuing, and behaving associated with a particular vision of reality.” Basically, a paradigm is the underlying worldview that shapes all of our thoughts, words, and actions. It is the model that we have created to make sense of the world—the way that we “see” the world in terms of our perceiving, understanding, and interpreting.

Understanding paradigms can be of great value, as it shows us just how deeply embedded our perceptions are. Not only that, it points out that perception is not a fixed thing, it is something that can change. By changing the paradigms that underlie our perception, we transform the way that we experience life.

Stephen Covey does a great job of explaining paradigms in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” when he compares paradigms to maps:

Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. 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 behavior—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 behavior or attitude. It has everything to do with having the 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 accuracy of the map.

Each of us has many, many maps in our head... 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 really are or the way they should be.

And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions. The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act.

Our personal and collective paradigms—our mental maps—shape the way we think and behave. If we wish to transform our society, we need to transform these underlying paradigms that lie at the root of our perception.

The fundamental paradigm that our society operates on is the idea that we exist as separate entities in a mechanical and unintelligent universe, and this is far from the truth.

With little investigation into anything, we see that it is connected to every other thing in existence. Your body, for example is dependent upon food, water, air, and heat. Each of these elements is connected to many others.

For example, food depends upon soil, water, sunlight, carbon, and so on. Looking deeply into every form we see it is interconnected with all other forms.

Yet, this interconnected perspective is not what informs most of our lives. Instead, we have a deep-rooted sense of being separate from all of these elements, and this is a result of our paradigm.

We were raised in a society that is influenced by reductionist philosophies such as Newtonian physics, which views everything as separate and distinct particles that move about in an unintelligent, mechanistic manner—and out of this random process, somehow life emerged.

This is just one example, but there are many cultural beliefs that have shaped our individual perception of life. To change our perception, we need to observe ourselves and question the unconscious assumptions we have made about life.

Through investigation into ourselves and our way of thinking, we can begin to change our paradigm. By changing our paradigm, we begin to change the way we see and relate to life.

One practice that significantly helps us to remove our conditioned beliefs and open up to reality is the practice of meditation. If you’d like to learn more about meditation and how to start and maintain a daily practice, our Introduction to Meditation course is a great place to start.


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