Monday, January 26, 2009

Pondering a Paradigm Shift

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote of what he called a “paradigm shift” in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn limited the use of the term to the world of science, and he would later voice great displeasure in the adoption of his phrase to other areas of life and academic disciplines. Nonetheless, his phrase enjoyed a growing popularity and a broadening scope of use. Today the expression maintains its rudimental meaning…a basic shift in the way one thinks about or views a particular topic or situation. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for the research.)

Recently, I experienced a paradigm shift. Let me share it with you.

I am a restaurant manager. One of the hardest tasks of being a restaurant manager is finding good help, people who are willing to be at work everyday and work while they are there. On any given day you can find dozens of people who will accept your employment offer, but who will only come in when they want and stand around while they are there. These are the people I say are more interested in a paycheck than in a job. Our store seems to attract a lot of people who want paid, but don’t want to work for it.

About six or eight months ago, Miro (pronounced “me row”) became of my employees. He spoke very little English, and I spoke even less of his language…none in fact. The General Manager assured me he was a good worker and would make an excellent dishwasher. I took his word for it.

Since then, I have had a few occasions to see Miro work. My problem with Miro was not so much the quality of his work, but my own inability to communicate with him the things I wanted him to do. My recourse was uneducated, but very American. I ignored him. I fussed at him when he didn’t do what I tried to get him to do. I knew he didn’t understand and that added to my frustration. When I would call out his name, he would not answer. I was sure he could hear me because I was only a few feet away from him. I got to the point where I hated to see him at work when I arrived. I assumed he was uneducated.

A few weeks ago, the restaurant was empty. We did not have a single guest in the store and had not had anyone in the store for about 30 minutes. Miro began talking with the employees. I listened. The more I listened the more intrigued I became. The more intrigued I became the more I attempted to communicate with him. This eager attempt at communication precipitated my paradigm shift.

Miro (I can’t pronounce or spell his last name) is from Bosnia. Thirteen years ago he moved to the United States to escape the ravages of his war-torn country. In Bosnia, Miro was a postal worker with 30 years service. He owned his own house. He helped take care of his entire family. He was happy. Shortly after the war broke out he heard his neighbors being killed and knew his family was next. He quickly gathered his family and fled, leaving behind the house he had worked so hard to own…a house to which he and his family have never returned. In the course of his escape from Bosnia, he lost 85% of his hearing to bombs exploding. He managed to get his family out of Bosnia and into the United States. One day, perhaps, he hopes to return home. However, as pleasant as the thought of going home is to Miro, he fears what he might find when he does go home.

My experience with Miro helped to see that I…Americans…am far too caught up in my own little existence. I complain about the cold in the winter and the heat in the summer. I become frustrated with the traffic. I fear the poor economy, the declining dollar, the stock market, and the long lines at Logan’s Steakhouse, but I have never feared for my life or the lives of my family. Bombs are not exploding in my neighborhood. My eyes have been opened to a larger picture of the world and the people in it.

Suddenly, Miro has become more than just a non-English-speaking dishwasher. I no longer see him as uneducated. In fact, now I am the one that seems uneducated. Miro’s life experiences have given him a Ph. D. in World View, and I am just starting my elementary years.

I thought I was well balanced in my view of the world and people. Miro taught me differently. My paradigm is surely shifted. Thank you, Miro. Through what paradigm do you see the world and its inhabitants?

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