Do You See What I See? Exploring Paradigms to Arrive at Mutual Understanding

When I was younger, I was obsessed with the concept of paradigms. I vividly recall being maybe 5 or 6 years old, playing with toys, and wondering if someone else looking at a toy saw the toy in the same color that I was viewing it in. I didn’t know how to articulate what I was thinking then, but I had the nagging suspicion that people must literally see things in different shades than I … for example what I call blue, maybe someone else experiences as red … which must explain away the fact why they don’t like blue too, right?

I remember forming the hypothesis that people with different eye colors must be seeing different sets of colors, and I wanted to confirm this was true, but I didn’t know of a way to prove it. Hence this experience set me off into a future of wanting to deeply understand why people often think, see, and act so differently.


As a teenager, I came across Sean Covey’s “7 Habits for Highly Effective Teens” and it was one of the first books I read that gave me a name for the word “paradigm.” From there I became obsessed with paradigms, even choosing to major in Journalism to understand the best way to uncover both sides of a story, and minoring in Religious Studies so I could understand the differences between guiding worldviews. Growing up, my closest friends represented a variety of world religions and cultures. While theology didn’t affect our friendships, I inherently knew that one’s beliefs shaped their thinking about the world, and I wanted to understand why.


Turns out this thinking about the world has proven useful in many instances, and staying up-to-date on the latest marketing trends and research is no exception. Just today I came across two articles about advertising in my news feed that appeared to be diametrically opposed. One was entitled, “Why Ads Don’t Matter Anymore” from the Branding Strategy Insider, the other “The Future Belongs to the Multichannel Marketer” from MarketingProfs, which actually focused on all the ways advertising is effective. Whenever I see two stories like this, I instantly feel the pull to read them, with the challenge of trying to uncover where the two viewpoints converge and may actually just be talking about the same thing in different vocabulary. (Case in point, the below gestalt vase image. What do you see? A vase, two profiles, or both images simultaneously?)


Almost always, this sort of approach results in gained knowledge, a higher level view of the argument, and it results in exposing certain truths and finding clearer answers which lead to forming deeper opinions and making better decisions. Often many people stop here and choose not to do the work of understanding the other side, but this is where the magic happens. Striving to understand the full story and not just part of it, therefore, is the only way to pick up real insights and move forward in thinking and understanding the world. Wouldn’t you agree?

Now, if you’re on the same page with me, I invite you to read an article (trust me I have several, but we’ll start with just one) that fundamentally focuses on a REALLY big topic: understanding the worldviews and paradigms shaping our culture today. I promise you this read is worth your time, but first, a backstory.

When I first read this article, it was while sitting outside in the grass on a beautiful spring day next to a lovely creek on the California State Unversity, Chico campus, alongside of my classmates during an English Literature class. If you haven’t been to the campus before, I highly encourage you to visit – Chico Creek is really quite lovely, the campus is filled with beautiful brick buildings and overflowing with foliage:


Our professor had a passion for literature, and was fervent about helping us to form critical insights, bridging gaps in understanding between worldviews and paradigms. She pleaded with us to read this article carefully, critically, hinging on each word as we went along, and then she hosted a follow-up discussion.

Certainly she felt passionate about this read, and she wanted us consume the literature in such a way that would be not only memorable, but enjoyable. By bringing us outdoors, giving us time to focus on the reading, and then discussing it immediately thereafter, she helped us to enjoy the experience fully and form connections and insights that would have never been reached had we just been simply scanning through the article. With that being said, I encourage you put some time aside, find a comfortable spot, and read this piece entitled “The Great Initiation” by Richard Tarnas.

I believe it contains a truly powerful message about the times we live in, and by embracing a commitment to complexity, helps us to shed light and provide perspective on a variety of issues that shape our time. It also challenges us to consider our process of personal decision-making and opinion forming. An excerpt follows:

We live in a mysterious world, a world that will not yield up its secrets either simply or by force. I’ll begin, therefore, by asking for a willingness to be complex. I don’t mean we should give up valuing simplicity, but recognize that one-sidedly simple critiques of the contemporary world situation are probably going to be inadequate—they will probably be psychologically driven, and intellectually insufficient to accomplish our task.

In some sense, simple critiques represent an avoidance of the challenge of engaging fully the very mysterious character of the world we live in. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us in these times is to sensitize our thinking—all our ways of knowing—to the subtle interplay of forces that have shaped our world today. This complexity reveals itself right away when we look at our historical situation, and examine the two metanarratives (major guiding stories) which seem to underlie many of the debates of our time. These are the myths we might call, on the one hand, “The Story of Progress,” and, on the other, “The Story of the Fall.”

What I have enjoyed so much about this piece over the years is that it has pushed me to think beyond one-sided narratives, emotionally or psychologically driven arguments, to arrive at a broader understanding of both sides of the story, which of course matters today more than ever as the global community works toward sharing and synthesizing its collective knowledge and beliefs. Beyond that, this article provides an introduction to the concept of Integral Theory, which I’ve written about before, meaning it calls for us as a species to consider the varieties of cultures, ideas, experiences and find a way to synthesize overall meaning, not just meaning as it refers to a singular person or group.

If you’re intersted these topics, would love to connect with you here! And I hope you enjoy the reading as much as I did.


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