Blind Spots

By Kerri Burnside

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin

I grew up playing in the sun. I was fortunate in that my mother took my siblings and me to either Lake Whatcom or Lake Padden what seemed like almost every nice day during the summer while I was growing up. We would spend all day swimming and playing on the beach. We all got very tan by the end of the summer.

I frequently had other children ask me why my skin got so dark or what was I. I would shrug my shoulders and answer with a sophisticated “I dunno.” I noticed that my cousins, aunts and uncles also would have rather dark skin by the end of the summer. One day while visiting my grandmother I inquired about this subject. She told me a beautiful story about my great-great-great grandmother who was an Indian princess.

I loved the story of my ancestry and also had an answer for why I got so much darker than other children . I re-told the story many times growing up. Years later while in high school, my mother over heard me telling the story to a friend who was complaining to me that it was unfair that I tanned so easily. My mom laughed and said, “that’s not true.”

I still remember the cascading emotions and confusion. I had grown up believing that my family had Native American ancestry. I never questioned this story. I took it as a fact. It was an implicit belief and had shaped part of my identity! This was my first recollection of a major paradigm shift.

While technically a paradigm shift is used in science and defined as a change in the basic assumptions or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The term paradigm shift has slipped into mainstream society. I really like this definition of a paradigm from the book, What the Bleep do We Know? by co-authors William Arntz, Besty Chasse and Mark Vicente. “A paradigm is like a theory, but a little different. A theory is an idea that sets out to explain how something works, like Darwin’s theory of evolution . It is meant to be tested, proved or disproved, supported or challenged by experiment and reflection. A paradigm, on the other hand, is a set of implicit assumptions that are not meant to be tested; in fact they are essentially unconscious. They are part of our modus operandi as individuals, as scientists, or as a society.” A paradigm shift outside of the scientific community is when we disprove an unconscious assumption or belief system and come to a higher or new level of understanding.
My paradigm shift may not have been earth shattering with implications that changed the world, but the experience did shatter a belief system that I was not conscious that I had. It was one of those ‘aha moments’ that are difficult to adequately describe with words. I realized that I can’t believe everything that I think. I started questioning what am I blind to? This opened the door to exploring what my beliefs are and are those beliefs even real or were they just handed down to me from my family or culture? How often have I taken on a belief or opinion because someone that I respected shared the same sentiment? The deeper beauty was that it open the door to my freedom. I get to decide what is true for me.
We can see paradigm shifts occurring currently with the Pope issuing his statements to take better care of the environment, legalization of cannabis in Washington and of same sex marriage in United States. While two of the three were not new ways of thinking for myself, I can see the wave of mixed reactions across our nation. Change can be uncomfortable and frightening. Everyone’s ability to deal with the inevitable reality of change varies from person to person. I implore you to be open to the possibility that your viewpoints might change over time. Unearth some of those hidden unconscious beliefs and test them to see if they really are true and, more importantly, are they true for who you are today or the person you aspire to be?

Armed with the knowledge that I have filters that were formed by my experiences, I have realized that they block me from truly seeing and experiencing the world around me; similar to the blind spots in my vision. I know that I am still walking around with those filters obscuring my vision and I that I can’t always believe what I think, so I have made a personal amendment to the saying “stand up for what you believe in.” It is now… question, explore, seek to understand, then once I am sure that it is (or as sure as I can be) true and what I choose to believe in, then I stand up for it.
I ask you how hard do you fight for what you believe in because what if you discover as I did that what you believe is not true?
Let your mind grow and stretch a little. Ponder these questions…
• What beliefs do you have about how men “should” be?
• How “should” women be?
• What beliefs do you have about how you should or should not be or behave?
• What does “family” mean to you?
• Are popular magazines or the news a paradigm?
• What about our laws and constitution?
• Is the Bible a paradigm?