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Or, if you believe
you won't see something,
you might miss it altogether.


485 words


What you think you see might not be there at all
by Dianne Roth


A paradigm can be described as “one’s world view”. In science and epistemology, a paradigm is a distinct concept or thought pattern, and paradigm paralysis is the inability or refusal to see beyond current models of thinking.

In other words, a paradigm allows you to “see only what you believe you are going to see”.

In a workshop at my school, we were shown a video of various playing cards. They flashed by quickly, we were to identify each card. Out of eight cards I could identify five of them. Three were undecipherable.

The cards were presented again, slower. Still, I could identify only five. Slower still... Finally, we were shown the cards very slowly. I remember the sense that the card gradually came into focus. My mind was wrestling with what I was seeing.

It turns out the cards were regular playing cards, but the color was wrong: black hearts and diamonds, red spades and clubs. My paradigm, what I believed I was seeing, was different from what I saw, therefore I could not see them.

I was stunned. I learned a lesson about my thinking that has proven true over and over.

An example? I have two ladders. The aluminum one I keep outside, the wooden one was always in the basement. One day I needed the wooden ladder. It was gone. I looked ‘everywhere’. I even assigned blame.

For two years I have been reaching through the rungs of that ladder to get my pruning shears off the shelf. I never saw the ladder because it was in the garage instead of the basement.

Another example? I live in the part of Corvallis where old houses are being bulldozed to build monstrous student housing. I have become the last owner-occupied on my block. The litter and noise have increased, and the sense of neighborhood has seriously declined.

On a side street, a shabby little house was bulldozed. I was furious. Over six months, a large apartment complex was built. I hated it.

I go out of my way to avoid walking by these monstrosities, but this one is on my way to visit my father. All I could see was more litter and noise.

Last week, on my way to my dad’s, a woman with developmental disabilities approached me. She was beaming and shaking her hands in excitement. She pointed to the new building and said, “I’m moving to my new apartment tomorrow! I am so excited!”

I put my arms up and wished her a, “Happy New House!” She threw herself into my arms for a glorious hug.

Now, walking by that new apartment building, I am filled with joy and neighborliness. What I thought I was seeing isn’t there at all.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on November 2, 2015