What is your paradigm?

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What is your paradigm?

By Russell Pollitt SJ

We all have a paradigm, a perspective or an idea that we live with. Put in another way, we see the world through a pair of glasses – through a lens with a certain tint. We have perspectives on everything – economics, politics, faith, religion, community, sexuality etc. 

Having a paradigm is normative, part of our human experience. What is important is that we are aware of our paradigm and know what shaped it and, its limits. Sometimes we are not conscious of the paradigm that we have adopted, and how it has shaped our perspective. Our self-concept, God-concept and the way we conceive others impacts on how we decide and choose to live, that is, our course of action, and the positions we take.

The paradigm we live with is formed by multiple factors: family of origin, what we have been taught, our experience, what we read, media, context, our longings and desires and our own individual woundedness and blind spots. The paradigm or perspective we operate from is reality for us, but it may not be actual reality. 

One of the challenges we all have is the need to stop and critically examine our paradigm. Sometimes we simply don’t think about this. At other times we are unwilling to do so because we are afraid or insecure that we might actually discover that my perspective is untrue or at least partial (which is the truth anyway!).

Our paradigm will impact everything and so we are, at times, invited to become aware of the ‘glasses’ we wear. 

Pope Francis has called for a Synod on Synodality in 2023. We are in what is called the pre-Synod ‘Diocesan Phase’. In other words, parishes are being asked to engage on certain questions about our life as Church and offer feedback, after listening to different groups of people, to the various dioceses we live in. This will be sent to the Bishops’ Conference and eventually be offered to the Synod office in Rome for consideration and discussion by the Synod of Bishops.  

A colleague said that some clergy and people are refusing to take part in the listening because, they said, they might have to listen to the experiences of people that they disagree with. In other words, they might encounter people who do not live with the same paradigm they do.  Others have taken a more sinister approach and claimed that the Synod is seeking to challenge and change doctrines of the Church. That is their paradigm, formed by various influences. 

The problem which such positions is that we run the risk of being stagnant, stuck. This can easily lead to living in a cocoon, with a paradigm that is not reality. It makes us less able to do the best we can. Listening to people, for example, does not mean that we have to agree with all they say, we might not. But, if we are not open to listening, we have lost part of what it means to be human: the fundamental value of honouring another with dignity, treating them as worthy of respect and, hearing them out. 

It also means that we will not be open to allowing our paradigm to be challenged. Sometimes, when our perspective is challenged, we might adapt. On the other hand, robust engagement might confirm where we are. 

If we are not willing to listen it ultimately says that ‘I will not have my paradigm challenged!’ This means that we are not open to growth and, we might ask ourselves, what are we really afraid of?

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