bumping into paradigms

Every time I join a pedestrian crowd here in Germany (where there are often lots of pedestrians) I become very frustrated. I step to my right to avoid the person coming toward me, but they step to their left and we end up nose to nose, exasperated. Or I plow ahead in beeline mode, focused on my destination in the distance, and a daydreaming window-shopper wanders right in front of me and stops. Or any number of other maddening ways my lifelong manner of walking along a sidewalk in the company of others is met with the unruly, inefficient, and just plain stupid behaviour of my fellow pedestrians.

Either my assumptions about the “right” way to walk along the sidewalk with other humans needs to be updated, or most pedestrians in Germany are doing it wrong.

Hmm. Tough call.

Obviously, my American assumptions about pedestrian traffic don’t constitute the right way or the only way. What interests me most is my resistance to concede the point. They’re such idiots! I rant to myself after bumping into the fifth person in five minutes. Can’t they see how much more sense it makes to do it my way?

The deeper the paradigm, the harder it is to shift. “They” are so wrong, right up to the point where the overwhelming evidence is unavoidable and we realize we’re the idiot who just doesn’t get it.

Life and the creation of amazing, true, unique works of art require the same thing of us: that we get out of our own way, that we lay down our weapons and open up to the unknown and the uncomfortable in order to grow and heal and remain healthy.

Unexamined paradigms are like bombs – unhealthy to leave lying around. Dismantling a limiting paradigm is like disarming a bomb. The danger inherent in the paradigm transmutes into useful components that can be used for more life-affirming purposes.

The tool of curiosity miraculously dismantles dangerous assumptions and false expectations. Why am I the only one who’s doing it right? Is my way actually the right way or the only right way? Might there be another way that would work better for me? Could I be happier doing it differently?

Curiosity is foolproof. Even fools can’t withstand its power.

The next time you have a reaction that feels like resistance, like a conviction that this is just wrong, especially if it seems wrong-bad, reach out with a question instead.

The illuminating torch of a question mark can comfort and lead us through dark doorways into foreign bars full of staring strangers, down creaking stairways into stinking cellars, and out across lonely moors in the driving rain. Whenever we’re willing to convert a stiff-armed palm thrust out as a NO into an open palm offering a question, all manner of insights, solutions, connections, and other worlds brighten into view.

When I walk along the sidewalk and question my North American, target-focused, missile-mode way of walking through a crowd, I discover the completely unexpected joys of being here now, slowing down, taking care, allowing others to be themselves, noticing where I plant my feet, and not making assumptions about the people I’m with.


Related reading: directionless is not pointless

3 comments to bumping into paradigms

  • Mary Beth Leisen

    How insightful – and helpful!!! I love your posts – they’re always filled with wisdom that goes far beyond their applicability to writing. Thanks for the gems!

  • I had this same issue when working in London – I kept looking the wrong direction on the street for incoming traffic and stepping out right in front of cars! They would honk and slam on their brakes, and I would be horribly embarrassed. I would fuss and fume, and my friend finally said, “You know Andrea, you may be right, but it will be dead right.” Good point!

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