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Paradigm shift

How changing course can save our relationships, communities and families

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John Lee, Deseret News

A captain navigating a large ship through dark stormy seas saw on his radar another vessel directly in his path. He radioed, “Change course, or we are going to collide.” The reply came back: “You change your course.” Angered, the captain answered, “I am a mega-tanker heading straight for you, MOVE.”

The next reply changed everything: “I am the lighthouse, you move.”

This often-told tale illustrates how a paradigm shift can change not only our perception of the drama but of everything within the drama. The whole story changed: The mega-tanker suddenly became relatively small and transitory and maneuverable — while the “other vessel” became ultimately fixed and the north star controlling all else. The ship captain transformed instantly from one giving directions to one taking them; the situation shifted from one of irritation and inconvenience to one of saving self and ship. The “seeing” of the larger reality changed everything. The paradigm shifted from the power-struggle of doing and winning to the teamwork of being and of saving life and vessel.

A paradigm is a worldview or a perspective; and with us mortals, those paradigms are often extremely limited and incomplete — so much so that it takes a metaphor or a story like the lighthouse versus the ship to grasp the pinhole narrowness of our view compared to the vastness of the universe.

As parents, grandparents, siblings and neighbors, we often need a paradigm shift of our own. We need to recognize the judgment and petty division around us and move through it into love and unity.  

We exist within silos of tribes, of comfort zones, where we want to listen to and live among those with whom we agree, and to be separated from those who “don’t get it.”

We live today in a polarized, divided world. But the divisions are not just global or economic, and not only manifest by our media sources or political parties. They run deep and personal, pulling apart neighborhoods, churches and even families. We exist within silos of tribes, of comfort zones, and we want to listen to and live among those with whom we agree and to be separated from those who “don’t get it.” 

The outgrowth of this win-lose, right-wrong paradigm is discord, division, dissension, dismissal and disrespect, all of which can limit or destroy the precious relationships that we should be doing all in our power to develop and preserve — with our families, our neighbors and our associates.

The divisions stem from limited perspectives on everything from politics to gender, and from vaccinations to climate, but perhaps the most poignant and painful ones involve what many would call their two highest priorities — faith and family.

I know two older couples who are each undergoing the same test. One son in each of the families has left the religion that is so dear to the parents.

The first couple is so obsessed with and so saddened by their son’s drop-out that they are blinded to all of his good points. He is a kind, thoughtful, good person, and I asked them which they would rather have, a son of wonderful character who didn’t attend church with them, or one who did but lacked those honorable personal traits. They took my point, but admitted that they couldn’t think about anything but trying to “bring him back” and that it was hard for them to view him as a full member of their family. 

The other equally religiously devoted couple responded very differently when their eldest son pulled away from their faith. They expressed their gratitude for the wonderful, service-oriented life he is living, and his interest in and commitment to his younger siblings. This couple’s paradigm is simply that they love who their son is, and that love can’t be dented or diverted by anything he does.

How about changing our metaphorical view — whether over “leaving the church” or “following the wrong candidate or news channel” or “believing the wrong thing about vaccination or climate or gender” —  from that of a dark abyss into which loved ones disappear forever to the brighter paradigm of a wonderful, beloved house that a loved one has chosen to walk out of, but remains right there on the veranda porch — completely in communication, available and able to walk back in through the front door and find himself in an atmosphere of ongoing, never changing, unconditional love?

Maybe those inside think the porch is a little chilly, but it is accessible — they can walk out onto it and be with him any time, learn from him and appreciate what he sees out there. That front door is always open, going both ways.   

Richard Eyre is a bestselling author and speaker whose latest book is “No Division Among You: Creating Unity in a Diverse Church.”

This story appears in the December issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.