Opinion Columns & Blogs

DR. CUMMINGS: Those crazy paradigms

Last Sunday in the online comment space, one of our local hospital MDs wrote a scathing attack against me -- not against my column -- stating that I had been a motivational phony for 20 years on TV, but now I was showing my true colors by belittling and degrading those who have different viewpoints from me.

That’s his paradigm of me.

Paradigm is a Greek word for pattern, or “the way we look at people and things.” We have paradigms for politics, religion and people. Once we establish our paradigm, we don’t have to think about it anymore. We don’t need facts.

For example, half the people in Middle Georgia have African ancestors, and the other half claim European grandparents. This creates two entirely different paradigms. And these paradigms make it almost impossible for both groups to view a “Ferguson incident” in the same way. The whites are viewed as racists; the blacks as victims and neither can understand, or even want to understand, how the other person feels or thinks. Who needs facts?

We talk about “thinking outside the box.” The box is the paradigm. We talk about it, but we seldom do it, except in successful businesses. Every innovation in IT and manufacturing has come from diving outside the traditional paradigm and venturing forth into uncharted waters. But tell me, how often do we see a politician reach his hand across the aisle or a Catholic Church invite a Baptist to preach or a white family befriend a black family? These are difficult paradigm shifts to be sure, but the corporate world does it every day.

The Rev. Cassandra Howe, the new minister of the High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in Macon (whose installation ceremony is Sunday, May 3) gave a sermon on this a few weeks ago. She talked about the bottom line. She said corporations have profit as their bottom line, and this motivates them to make huge paradigm shifts. Some of them even provide meditation or yoga for their employees if this will make them more productive. She asked her congregation: “What’s your bottom line? What could motivate you to do a paradigm shift and pay attention to the other side?”

Good question.

Do you remember John Howard Griffin, a white man who drank large doses of Oxsoralen and spent 15 hours a day under an ultraviolet lamp until he finally emerged as a black man? He rode a greyhound bus through the segregated states of Louisiana and Georgia in 1959 so he could walk in the shoes of a black man and write a book called: “Black like me.” How did he do it? How could this man switch paradigms so dramatically and so drastically?

Paradigms come from habits that are lodged deep within our subconscious mind. We spend years in school to train our conscious mind but never learn how to train our subconscious. But it can be done. We really can change our paradigms or, at least, challenge them. We can find those people -- you know who I mean -- who are not “like us.” Those are people who didn’t go to the same schools we did, who don’t belong to the same church we do, who watch different networks and read different books, or no books at all. We can sit down with these people and listen. If we listen intently and don’t judge them, they will challenge our beliefs, and we can re-examine our paradigms.

But really, who wants to do that? It’s like learning a new language, and you know how difficult that can be. No, it’s much easier and much more pleasant to go through life with people who have the same paradigms we have -- no challenges, no arguments and no heated discussions. We never have to question our faith or our politics or our preferences. We never get challenged by people we really respect, and the best thing of all? We don’t have to think.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.