Thomas Kuhn wrote of the paradigm shift. He spoke specifically in terms of scientific revolutions, when a current paradigm is disrupted by a plethora of contrary evidence, resulting in a shift to a new paradigm. Though it seems that new paradigms come along in a moment of clarity, in an “ah ha” moment that heralds the dawn of a wiser, more advance way of thinking, the reality is that paradigm shifts generally happen after a long, arduous, painful crisis of dissonance as long held beliefs, rock solid ways of thinking are beaten down mercilessly bit by bit, argument by argument. In the end, the new paradigm feels comfortable, the old paradigm left in tatters like ancient folly, the tortuous path between the two forgotten like a bad dream.
Though he described paradigms shifts in terms of scientific advances, the concept is nonetheless applicable to the plight most of us go through at various points in our personal lives. The moments when what we thought we knew, what we accepted as reality, what we obdurately maintained as right and wrong come crashing down around us, leaving us in a cloud of dusty confusion, grasping for any sign of comfort and reassurance. Those moments are the culmination of a steady barrage against the very core of our foundation, the very base of our emotional and intellectual existence, our fundamental paradigms.
My paradigm has been challenged for years. And like most of us, I have fought to protect my paradigm with everything I have, despite the challenges life has thrown against it. Today, these past few weeks, these past couple of years, I have watched my paradigm unravel, crumble, become so much nonsensical din. Now I find myself in the midst of the uncomfortable chasm, that vertigo that comes when one paradigm collapses, but another has yet to form to take its place. All I know is that the old paradigm no longer works. But I don’t know what the new paradigm looks like.
This paradigm shift has to do with so many of the basic tenants of my existence. The answers to questions about what it means to be successful, what it means to be happy, what it means to a good person, what it means to be human and to be a human being. I thought I knew the answers to these questions. I thought it was pretty clear, a solid set of core values to which I could cling during any raging moral storm. Yet now those answers seem like grade school philosophy, simple and silly, a naïve perspective. A paradigm that simply no longer works.
And so I begin to build a new paradigm, to understand these basic questions in a new way, in way that I have never imagined before. I turn inward, toward some sort of inner peace that excludes external manifestations of accolades, approval, reward. I honestly don’t know the way. Maybe it is there, perhaps in some ancient texts from fringe philosophers, teachers, moral leaders, eastern religions. Or maybe it is a well-trodden path that I must discover and walk down for the first time alone, struggling to find what others could easily show me, lessons that many others have already learned.
Whatever it is, I don’t like it. I don’t like being left to twist, to blow in the wind, struggling to find a foothold. But what choice do I have? Life continues to give me one more day, and thus I have no choice but to keep trying. I go on because I must. I must, because I go on. In the end, we all end alone.