Was there a moment or moments in your life when you had a fundamental shift in thinking? A moment when you started to see things in a totally different way. An “AHA” moment, as Oprah calls it.
As people, as human beings we have a role to play. The moment we are born we are someone’s daughter, sister, niece. Then as we start to grow and live our life our role changes. We go to school, get a degree, have a career and then we meet someone, we fall in love, perhaps we get married and become someone’s wife, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother. And with each role our preferences change.
However, when we experience a moment in our life where we face a certain life and death situation, a life-threatening crisis, in an instant everything changes for us. That moment causes a major shift in our perspective. That’s when we see things in a totally different way. The experience moves us from one way of seeing the world into another. Suddenly we become more attentive to people around us. We become appreciative of the little things we have in life.
What happens when suddenly we realize that the person we love is not who we think he/she is, or is cheating on us. As a consequence, our attitude towards people changes, and so does our behavior. Trusting people and getting involved becomes an issue for us. So not all shifts are in the positive direction.
In 1989 Stephen R. Covey spoke about these moments and shifts in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. The book on Powerful Lessons in Personal Changes created quite a buzz in the business world at the time. Companies all around the world involved their employees in leadership courses coached by disciples of Stephen R. Covey’s leadership program. In his book Stephen R. Covey talked about the “Aha!” experience and the paradigm shift. Even though I didn’t take part in any such course at that time, I devoured the book. Other than being a great book it had a lot of real life examples that were so eye opening to me and that I thought I could use in my field of expertise.
I was teaching then in a private international school in Dubai. The school was big with over thirty students in each class. The students came from different cultural and religious backgrounds and it was our job as teachers to make sure that no bullying occurred within the school premises. After every lesson I used to take a few moments to talk to my students about how deceptive appearance can be and about different things in life. But mostly I read to them from Stephen R. Covey’s book, about his “Aha!” experience that has helped shape my outlook, and that I would like to share with you as well.
“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on the subway in New York. People were sitting quietly- some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess I don’t know how to handle it either.”
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.”