By Jim Selman | Bio

Paradigm is one of those words that has become so over-used and misused that to say it in polite company or even in a corporate workshop will have eyes roll and people sigh as if the term itself is something to be endured. I am one of those people who say it a lot, have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about, and believe it is important for ordinary people to understand that most of our persistent problems are paradigm problems. That is, our dominant and collective interpretation of the world, of who we are and what is going on is the problem. If we are blind to or in denial of this view, then we will continue to do the same things over and over while hoping for different results.

In ordinary terms, a paradigm is a worldview. If we think about it, there is no practical difference between our worldview and the “world”. Our actions are always related to the world we see, not the way the world ‘might be’. When people say we need to ‘get out of the box’, they are talking about the paradigm. One of the reasons the term is so annoying for so many people is because it is paradoxical—for while paradigms are the constructs that define our reality, they don’t exist in what most of us call ‘reality’. One of the more popular analogies for understanding a paradigm is to ponder what doesn’t exist in the world of a fish—what is invisible from that perspective. The answer is “water” because it is the medium in which fish exists as fish and is, therefore, transparent to them. If you take a fish out of water, it is ‘instant paradigm recognition.

Supposed some sage in years past posed the maxim that there are three great mysteries in the Universe—water to a fish, air to a bird and man to himself. Paradigms are what allows us to be self-aware, to have consciousness and to interact intentionally with our ‘reality’. Moreover, I would argue that they are not some psychological model in our minds or our brains, but are linguistic and self-referential interpretations that are being constantly reinforced in our day-to-day conversations. Some of these conversations seem to be personal like the automatic ‘little voice’ in our heads running in circles and arguing against any point of view that we don’t agree with, we don’t understand, isn’t ‘reasonable’ or doesn’t fit our historical stories about the way it is. Most of the conversations are collective and cultural in nature and have to do with the ‘way it is’, and can be telescoped from the level of a single relationship to a team, an organization and even an entire society. For example, when someone travels to another country with a strong, distinct culture, they will hear almost everyone telling the same (often verbatim) story about their history, ‘the way it is here’, ‘the way we are’ and ‘why change is difficult’.

Serene Ambition is based on the point of view that our ‘reality’ about aging is a paradigm —while our bodies will change as we grow older, what is possible or not possible is an interpretation. Moreover, the process of creating any new paradigm occurs when a critical mass of people commit to a possibility before there is evidence it is possible, and then organize their actions accordingly.

A possibility is by definition not ‘real’ (if it were it would be an example). Said differently, if we can observe that paradigms are revealed or manifest in everyday conversations then what we’re trying to do is create a new conversation about what is possible as we grow older.

Our vision of this possible future can be found at Our goal is a million signatures this year. No one knows how many people comprise a critical mass, but one day we will find that being old is not something to fear, but something that we can look forward to and be grateful for. Finally, we can also imagine a future in which differences in age and between generations is a unifying principle, one in which the young and the old collaborate in addressing the most important challenges of the day.

I would encourage anyone sharing this vision to visit the Eldering Manifesto website and add your signature and engage your friends to do the same. Together we can help usher a new paradigm into reality and, in doing so, change our world.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

0 thoughts on “Paradigms”

  1. I really like the idea behind the Eldering Manifesto and I have added my signature. I will also let my friends know so that we can find that critical mass and shift the view so to speak. A human being is like an apple tree, it takes many years for it to go from a seed to a sapling to a fruit bearing tree. This is when all the attention and cultivation pays off. Why does society never think about or value the fruits of wisdom that finally copmes to a person in their later years? Such is the paradigm I suppose.

    Thanks for the wisdom!


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