We have all heard of the term “paradigm shift”. It started out as a mathematical term, but over the years it has become a philosophical term as well. I will always remember the first time I heard the term. It was in an advanced learning seminar, and the speaker explained the philosophical definition this way. He said a paradigm shift is when new information is introduced to a situation which causes you to think differently.
The instructor then went on to give the following example...a man gets on a train with 3 young children, and immediately the children begin running up and down the aisles of the passenger car disturbing the tranquility of the other passengers. Shortly, people begin to complain to the man about his children, as the man blankly stares out the window of the train. As the complaints get louder, the man is suddenly jolted from his stupor and realizes what his children are doing. He quickly gets his children under control and then sets out to apologize to his fellow travelers. He explains that he and the children just left the nearby hospital where his wife had just passed away, and he had been beside himself in grief. This additional bit of information provided by the father makes all the difference in the world, doesn't it?
I had an email encounter with a dear friend this week; which reminded me of the above life lesson. I would like to share with you parts of an email exchange with my friend.
My friend wrote the following, “I've lived in my house on this cul de sac for 33 years. Nice area, nice street, nice homes, nice people. Then about two years ago a middle aged couple moves in with three kids; a teenage daughter, and two younger grade school kids, one a daughter, the other a young brute of a son who is loud, and tough, and I found out, autistic. He's potential trouble, big time trouble, and my wife found out directly from the father, that he has already, at like nine years of age, attacked both parents physically. I also found out that all three kids are adopted, all from the same mother, but three different fathers. Now this father told my wife their home is a bit wild and crazy, not a lot of joy. The guy just painted his house some crazy color, actually half the house is one color and half a totally different color. I mean everyone on the street is furious.
My wife, who wouldn't say boo to anybody on any controversial topic, was walking the dog the other day, the guy was out front, and my wife stopped and asked the guy just what this is all about? That's how bad it looks. He said they needed some joy in their life, so they wanted to do this. I said, you know what, what about our life, our neighborhood, our home? In my opinion, he brought all this on himself.”
I wrote back to him the following, much of it based on my experience as a father of two adopted children, “I am not sure what to say about the neighbor. Sometimes you set out to do something good and the world just caves in on your ass because you just didn’t anticipate how difficult the task would be. I guess a question to be answered is, where would those kids be today without those adoptive parents? I guess the bigger question to ponder is why God made them your neighbor?”
My friend relied back, “The question you posed that really gave me pause was, "I guess the question to ponder is why God made them your neighbor"? I get keyed up, fed up and cranky when people don't do things exactly as I think they should do them, and exactly when I think things should be done. I don't have a lot of patience with that. But that is an excellent question that may not be answered for a long time. Or may be answered soon, who knows, I know I don't know. But I do know this; I will try to have a better attitude towards the situation. I know the past week or so I've told myself; it's just a house, a paint job, a family. So if or when I look at that house or that family, I will ponder your question, smile, and say...there is a reason God brought them to this street, to be my neighbor, there is a good reason. And you know what, I don't think that paint job or that family will bother me to the degree they have.”
I replied, “As a realtor, I know that the house will hurt the home values in the neighborhood. So you have suffered a loss so long as the house looks the way it does. That would upset me too. Now, how do you get the couple to change their behavior? Being harsh with them is not going to work. Their reasoning is…you give me the cold shoulder; I will hurt you in the wallet by messing with the outside of my house.
Maybe trying to understand their world might change their hearts. Their world has to be pretty small…family, friends, and everyone they encounter is passing judgment, and with the kids being as bad as you say, they aren’t getting a moment’s rest. What would happen if you could shine the light into their darkness?”
My friend replied, “It's another beautiful day, and I was just on the front porch sitting with my dog. The guy happened to be in his front yard; putting some more touches on that paint job. He looked over at me and gave me a big wave. I looked at him and gave him a big friendly wave back. And I've got to be honest with you Tom, if we hadn't emailed back and forth today, if you hadn't written that statement to ponder about why God made them my neighbor, I would not have waved back. I know that would not have been nice, that would have been wrong, but I would not have waved. But I did, because of what you wrote. Thanks.”
I ended the conversation with, “Don’t thank me. Ponder this…why of all days did you pick yesterday to vent about your neighbor? And why did I respond the way I did? Perhaps if you had emailed today, my mood would have been more agitated and I would simply have agreed with you that he is a jerk. What I do know from dealing with people is that each of us carries around baggage that others cannot see. Everyone is dealing with things that are extremely hurtful and scare the living shit out of us. Each day presents the rest of us with the opportunity to be a blessing to someone, or a curse to someone. Maybe this guy painting his house is to signal to the world that his heart is breaking. Maybe God has designated you as his one and only friend?”
The point being to all of this, on any given day, the roles could have been just as easily been reversed, and my friend could have been challenging me. The world could use a whole lot more compassion and understanding right now. We are so quick to judge, and so slow to love.
In summary, I am going to end this with this quote from Saint Teresa...
I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or do that, but now I am praying that He will guide me to whatever I am supposed to do. I used to pray for answers, but now I pray for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”