I recently suffered a very sudden and very significant loss of vision.  Happily, the condition was fully correctible. Nonetheless, during the period of impairment I learned some very interesting things about how the brain works and we perceive the world.

I discovered that when I was in familiar surroundings, my brain could reach back to stored memories of how things were supposed to look.  In the familiar confines of my office or home, I hardly noticed the lack of clarity in my vision.  My brain was able to easily recognize the settings and the people I encountered and adjusted things to make it feel like I could see better than I actually did.

When I went on a period of extended travel, however, and found myself in unfamiliar surroundings, the visual impairment felt like it became more severe.  Everything was a total blur.  I felt disoriented and at a loss. 

Scientists talk about the concept of paradigms: the frame of reference that causes the human brain to routinely “fill in the blanks” and add information to what we are actually, sensually perceiving.  When that additional information is accurate, it actually improves our grasp of reality, as was the case when I was navigating my office and home with my fading eyesight. 

But sometimes the information that our governing paradigms add to our perceptive abilities can be misleading.  We can essentially see what we are expecting to see, not what is actually before us. 

And paradigms don’t just have the power to change — and distort — visual perceptions. I have seen paradigms at work within human interactions as well.    

When that happens, at a board meeting, or a staff meeting, or a legislative meeting, it can start an argument where there is no disagreement.  The conversation never gets to the available, mutually beneficial solution because the parties are too distracted arguing over perceived differences that exist only in their conflicting paradigms.

Or, put another way, if we remain at loggerheads, locked inflexibly into opposing positions even where there is no real impediment to a satisfactory solution, we will never get to a position of strength, from which we can successfully negotiate an acceptable outcome on the issues that truly do matter to us. 

Sometimes, you just have to let go of your paradigm.

About Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE
Mark J. Golden, FASAE, CAE, is Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, which provides global leadership advancing the practice and profession of clinical laboratory science and medicine. He previously served as Executive Director and CEO of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in Alexandria, Virginia. as Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), Vienna, Virginia and in leadership roles with the Personal Communications Industry Association (PCIA), Washington, D.C. and the Association of Telemessaging Services International (ATSI), Alexandria, Virginia. Long active in the association community, Mr. Golden is a past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for Association Leadership, a past Vice Chairman of the ASAE Board of Directors, past Chair of the Center for Association Leadership’s Research Committee, and past member of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce's Association Committee of 100. He is the 2011 recipient of the American Society of Association Executive's Key Award, the highest honor ASAE bestows, to "honor the association CEO who demonstrates exceptional qualities of leadership in his or her own association, and displays a deep commitment to voluntary membership organizations as a whole.”

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