Road to Damascus

 Image by This Year’s Love (c)

A fish has no concept of water until it is out of it then it flips and flaps until it dies. Why does a fish have no concept of water? This is because water is a bubble for a fish and it is unconscious of the water because it is immersed in it. The moral of this illustration is that the most obvious and important realities that define our lives are often the hardest to see and be objective about.

Paradigms are mental representations of the world. It is the way we see the world and it governs the way we react to daily events. We all have paradigms which define and determine our reality. Imagine yourself as the fish and the water as your paradigm bubble. Paradigms are picked up from different cultural sources (parents, peers, education, colleagues, TV, books, religion etc). We internalise them and they become part of our identity.  Once we believe them to be true and real, we see no reason to test their validity anymore because to do so will mean to question ourselves. We are then biased to seek information that confirms our paradigms and discount those that disapprove it. We actively resist any conflicting or contradictory information. Social psychologists refer to this resistance as cognitive dissonance – the difficulty of holding two contradictory views at the same time.

I would like to examine the life of one of the greatest characters and leaders in the Bible. A man named Saul, who later reinvented himself as Paul. He was a man with strongly held cultural and religious paradigms which governed his life. These were views which he grew up with and which he ardently believed and practised. A zealous scholar who was on the fast track within the religious and influential Pharisee Jewish sect until his Damascus Road experience transformed his life.

The ‘Road to Damascus’ is now commonly defined in pop culture as a sudden turning point in a person’s life. A defining event that gets you to re-examine your paradigms and priorities.

It is recorded that Saul was blind for three days after his Damascus Road experience. I believe that his physical {or external blindness} was indicative of his inner blindness. It was a way for God to demonstrate to him that his strongly held convictions which he assumed to be true were actually false. Saul discovered that though he was sincere, he was sincerely wrong. He was zealous but his zeal was without knowledge. He realised that he was walking in ignorance under the impression that he was right and the Christians who he was persecuting were the heretics. The road to Damascus event shattered this myth and revealed his inner blindness. Saul would go on to regain his sight and take a different life course in which he had to drop the things he thought were true and adopt a different paradigm. He went on to be one of the greatest saints in Christianity and the number one enemy of the Pharisees for the rest of his life.

Socrates is reported to have said that “An unexamined life is not worth living“. Hence it is important that we are not solely dependent on external events or crises (road to Damascus events) triggering self examination of untested paradigms but instead we need to actively seek out ways to creatively employ internal triggers to break out of self-created paradigm bubbles. This is to ensure that our strongly held paradigms don’t become self-restrictive prisons.

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5 Responses to Road to Damascus

  1. Ogechi

    Ok, so all jokes apart, I finally have a much better understanding of what a paradigm is. It’s one of those concepts that I know of but would not necessarily be able to correctly apply. Thanks for clearing this up.

    Am I right in deducing that this article is encouraging us to actually live life, in the practical sense. I am also seeing this as an encouragement to come out of my self and resist being narrow minded or self-centred. I’m all for getting out of the fish bowl, but I need a plan first, right? Otherwise I’d just be wandering aimlessly. Not to worry, I do have a plan.

    Ignorance is really costly. In this day and age, it’s self-robbery to resist gaining and applying knowledge. I say pop that bubble and see what’s going on on the other side! Of course, terms and conditions apply. There’s no need to foolishly experiment. Thanks Prof!

  2. Adelaide

    “An unexamined life is not worth living.” – finished it right there.
    I trust you are well and glad to see the fire burning.

  3. Daniel

    Awesome stuff!!! Very encouraging indeed.

  4. Wale

    Lovely piece! Set me searching myself…
    Thx

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