Believe in nothing, no matter who says it, even if I say it, if it does not agree with your own experience and your own common sense ~ Buddha

I attach the highest possible value to people who show me how to see things differently. The people who share my experiences are a joy and a comfort — but being exposed to the people who see things differently is the way I grow.

One of the most ubiquitous, pernicious paradigms I notice have to do with mental labels. You’re probably going to come up with fairly mundane examples: for instance, if you think of a certain person as a witch, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that she acts like a witch towards you.

But there are lots of deeper ones. And they blend in so well that it is so hard to separate conceptual realities from objective realities.

Example: Grade 6. We’re studying cultures around the world and it’s my job to draw a life-sized cardboard poster of an African tribesman. So, I do the research, get out some pictures to copy, and, using all the most colorful Tempura paints, draw the toothy necklaces, the bright prints of his kilt, the fearsome feathered and beaded spear. But then I get to the skin tone, and there’s nothing in my paint set that will do it. Black is too vaudevillian; grey obviously doesn’t work, and mixing grey and red to make brown will make him look like a tree. So I go to my teacher and ask permission to use charcoal for the skintone; charcoal not being in our normal supplies because it’s messy. And I’ll never forget this, he looked at me and said “You know that black people are actually brown, right?”

It hit me like a poleax. In an all-white rural school, blacks were still not totally outside my experience, and I was drawing straight from an encyclopedia picture. But the label in my head said “black”, and even though black paint clearly didn’t convey the colour, I simply switched to another black medium that conveyed depth and play of light.

Even now, this paradigm “plays” me. When I visualize Yemi, my Nigerian ex-boyfriend, I still see “black” even though I technically know that he’s really an eggplant-toned chocolate espresso.

By the by, that’s why I don’t paint, anymore, either. My paintings were visual representations of my paradigms about colour, shape and form and didn’t represent either the reality or the spirit of the subject. Which pretty much sums up my views on paradigms as a whole.

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