Paradigm Shift: A Quick One

While reading Philip Yancey‘s book, The Jesus I Never Knew, this afternoon, a little boy, who was a total stranger to me, came unannounced and annoyingly disturbed my quiet world.

First, he touched my iPhone which was peacefully lying on the left side of my table. Then he began rummaging on my table in a surprising manner, like a warden conducting a surprise inspection to a suspicious inmate.

I was shocked.

Then, in a hurry, he walked in front of the table and moved my displays one by one, inspecting them like he did to my iPhone—lifting them up, turning them upside down, and NOT putting them back where they belonged. Maybe he was looking for something, drugs, electronic bugs, I didn’t know. He did it with full authority, serious face, and without a smile.

My shock shifted to anger.

As a boy, I was brought up by my militaristic father under heavy strokes of discipline. Almost every move I made are counted by the number, every motion needed precision. I had to behave or I would be punched in the head or slapped in my face. With that heavy upbringing, my initial reaction to the boy who rummaged my table and violated my tranquility, was of course, one of anger. I couldn’t take the idea that he would get away with that kind of misbehavior without being spanked or at least yelled at. I was screaming “That’s unfair!” inside my heart. There is a strong force inside me that makes me expect the same discipline to every child I encounter, even now that I’m an adult. Anything less would trigger my temper.

The child’s ugly demeanor, jerked me back more than thirty five years ago, on the time when I was still his age. And while in the process of reminiscing my painful childhood, he made another blow. He reached out to me and touched the wooden knife I was holding in my hand. Sometimes, as a mannerism, I would hold on something—any object—while reading a book. This time, I was holding (and playing with my hands) a knife replica made of soft wood while reading my book aloud.

No, he did not just touch it. He held it firmly trying to get it from me, out of my hand. And he did it very quickly (almost surprising me) as if anticipating my resistance. When I resisted, he quickly ran toward my left side and opened the drawer of my table—continuing his unbelievable surprise inspection! Now, my building-up anger, suddenly metamorphosed into a full-grown rage. I was about to stand up and shout at him with blazing eyes.

At that point, I saw her mother running toward us reprimanding him in a graceful manner. I couldn’t believe it! All those untoward behaviors just treated with grace? But her mother was as quick as her little boy. She said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, my son is autistic. He is super active, hyperactive actually. He’s just five years old, and couldn’t speak.”

Upon hearing what she said — autistic! — , I suddenly experienced a change of heart. My blazing rage, rapidly melted uncontrolled. My anger, suddenly turned into compassion, plus a little shame to myself for being too quick to judge. I experienced a PARADIGM SHIFT.

Not all paradigm shifts happen that quick. In fact, most “change of heart” happen in a gradual way, taking up many years to transform. Nevertheless, whether paradigm shift happens in a slow, gradual way or in a sweeping stroke like the one I experienced this afternoon, it is always a powerful force. Powerful enough to change our emotion, to change our behavior, to change our treatment to other people…to change our lives.

My encounter with that little autistic boy helped me connect with what I have been reading. The book The Jesus I Never Knew is about a major paradigm shift in how Philip perceived the Jesus he thought he knew. And his perception changed dramatically when he scrutinized the life of Jesus according the gospels.

Just like Philip to Jesus, my perception to the boy was that he’s a spoiled child who needs discipline, extra discipline. I was seeing him as a negative person, simply undesirable. Yet after hearing one word—autistic—I changed my lenses. Suddenly he was a cute little boy who needs love, extra love, unconditional love.

All of a sudden, the boys behavior is justified. They became unoffending, even adorable.

I have learned that sometimes, if I needed a different result in what I’m doing, I just need to change the way I look at things. Just like in photography, I just need to replace my macro lens with a wide-angled lens. So I will be able to see the big picture, including all the surrounding.

While I was unconsciously building up my anger to the little boy, I was using my macro lens, concentrating on the details of his behavior, his rapid movements, his not being polite to at least smile at me, his irritating curiosity. But when I changed my perception, I changed the lens of my mind with a wide-angled lens, thereby seeing the surroundings, seeing the difficulty and courage of her mother in taking care of her, seeing his inability to connect meaningfully with other people even with just a simple smile, seeing his fondness in concrete objects, understanding that he is not in control of his behaviors.

When I changed my paradigm, I changed my heart, my feelings followed, then my behavior almost automatically supported that new paradigm.

Now, 2017 is coming in a few days. I am asking myself, what behaviors do I need to change for the better? What paradigm should I start shifting?