Entries in paradigm shifts (1)
It has happened to all of us, so I know you know what I mean.
Normally, it happens to me when I am already late for work. Perhaps it to me happens because I am late for work. In my haste to be out the door on time, I yank on the lace just that little bit harder and, well, for an instant it feels like my world has fallen apart.
Not that replacing the lace would be any big deal. I keep spares in the drawer for precisely this kind of emergency. Yet my behavior in these moments is anything but rational. I am all at sea, it feels like my world is falling apart, so what’s the point of upgrading to a new lace?
For the rest of the day I typically end up walking around with a makeshift, temporary knot in my shoelace – a simple reminder that, for not at least, all is not well with my world.
Of course, the Arabic idiom that most people use to describe these kinds of situations involves a camel and a solitary straw. Not that a piece of dry grass could ever inflict damage on a four-legged beast, any more than my shoelace could ever reasonably be blamed for ruining my day. But that’s not the point, is it? We all know It is the combination of events, culminating in this ‘moment’ that is really to blame.
Once upon a time, there was a philosopher-chemist, Michael Polanyi, who had a similar view on things. We view the world, he argued, through a particular lens – a conceptual framework that, for a time at least, makes sense. The problem is, over time, anomalies begin to occur like blotches on the horizon; things that, according to our view of the world, don’t quite make sense as they used to.
Over time, these anomalies build up, like the strain on my shoelace; until at a particular moment, the story breaks down completely, a rupture – a paradigm shift – occurs. And, in that moment everything changes.
Looking back, many of us will remember the moment when the story of our life just ‘changed’ – forever. In psychological terms, it’s the aha moment, when we literally step out of one story and find ourselves caught up in another. If you are Malcolm Gladwell, it’s the tipping point that catapults us into a new reality and gives us the energy and drive to change career, home, religion, or life partner.
Once the moment has passed, people will invariably ask: what was the last straw that tipped you over the edge? The fact is, though, the last straw tends almost always to be an irrelevance, compared to the thousand other ‘straws’ that came before.
So next time the shoelace snaps and your world falls apart, consider the fact that this moment has been coming for a while.