Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Problem of Perceptions and Paradigms (Pt 1 of 2)

Over the past seven weeks, I posted a series of blogs about how the perceptions of the various individuals and groups present in Mark 8 might influence an evaluation of Jesus’ ministry. I have given quite a bit of thought to the idea of perceptions and paradigms over these past several weeks, and will flesh out a few ideas here.

I recall a situation from a previous church which caused me to begin to understand the adage “perception is reality” in a way I never had truly experienced. The perception of the individual was not reality (at least not more than a small part of it), but to that person, in that time, the way the situation was understood by that person, was completely through a particular lens. Thus, for that individual, a distorted reality was the result.

And that is the case with perceptions. Our perceptions are important, but they are how we perceive reality; they are not necessarily reality. This should lead us to consider the basis for our paradigms (or perspectives, which are created by perceptions), but most people are simply happy to believe what they want rather than understanding why? Actually, the previous statement is true of all people to a large extent. For instance, I have no idea how I can type or talk into my cell phone and have the message received elsewhere exactly as it was typed or said, and I don’t really care as long as it works correctly. You, on the other hand might understand that technology perfectly, but might not know how a brown cow can eat green grass and produce white milk (btw, I don’t know either – again, as long as it works, right?!) So, why do we care about some questions and not about others? I have no way of knowing that about you, but for me it usually comes down to priorities. But, if we don’t know the details, and we do know something about a topic or issue, then the question becomes: How do we form our perceptions?

The answer to such a question is relatively easy. Among other possibilities, our perceptions are primarily formed by people (parents, relatives, friends, schoolmates, fellow employees, etc), the media (books, magazines, television, social media, blogs(!), etc), as well as general observation.

But here is the better question: How do our perceptions form us?

We all have perceptions which then form our paradigms. But how do these paradigms inform our decisions, our structures, our lives? Let me provide an example.

DirecTV has the slogan, “Don’t just watch tv, DIRECTV.” This is a nice play on words, but is brilliant in concept. The perception they are trying to create is that you no longer have to be tied to the scheduled that broadcasters have established. Instead, you can take control of when (and even where) you want to watch. In other words, instead of racing home from wherever you might be in order not to miss a certain show, you can simply set the show to record and then watch it on your own time. Again, brilliant. To take advantage of this idea, our perceptions (and our paradigm) have to change from one of letting the television studios control the time, to taking ownership of when to watch.

But! But because of the DVR, you can now record shows that you otherwise would not watch. Or record movies that you do not have time to watch, but for which you pay anyway. Thus, you find yourself being directed by the DVR instead of the television so you are no better off than you would have been. In fact, in many cases you are in a worse position. This is what I mean with the concept of our perceptions forming us. The perspective formed from the perception that we are now in control (in this example) may lead to a behavior in which we lose the control again. Sometimes the result may be inconsequential, but they might also be devastating.

As I mentioned above, our priorities and schedules often dictate what we are willing to evaluate and what we merely accept. And truly it is impractical for any one person to fully evaluate the basis for every perspective we have. However, we all have certain beliefs, understandings, and practices that are important to us and those ideas should be reviewed in order to gain clarity not only on what, but on why, we understand (or think ) what we do. The advantage is that we will then begin to know the reasons for our actions (or lack of action). Or, if our actions do not align with our beliefs, we will be better equipped to change our patterns in either direction until they do.

I will conclude these thoughts next week by bringing these thoughts in line with Mark 9.

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