Paradigm shift: the Parable of the Diaper

Paradigm shift: the Parable of the Diaper March 22, 2021

I want to talk today about being honest enough with ourselves to make an occasional paradigm shift. Let me set the stage for you by telling a story from my time living in Saudi Arabia (I spent ten years there, years I wouldn’t trade for anything, years I’ll never forget). My husband, a Palestinian, ended up in Saudi when his family fled/were exiled after the Six-Day War in 1967. He was six years old. Most of his family still lives there today. (I’ve written about Palestine several times, and about Saudi Arabia once before.)

paradigm shift
Ziyad, age 4

One little baby boy

November, 1986: the first time to celebrate my husband Ziyad’s birthday in Saudi Arabia. I asked his mother what she remembered about the day he was born. Her answer was matter-of-fact (I am not making this up): “I remember I was so excited because I had a baby boy, and the other wives had just had baby girls.”

Let’s just pause for a moment here (Selah) and ponder this epic statement. “I was excited because I had a baby boy, and the other wives had just had baby girls.” So, the implications here are that 1) a baby boy was somehow inherently more celebration-worthy than a baby girl, and 2) there were other wives nearby, having babies at roughly the same time.

It took me by surprise, but then again, I knew polygamy was a thing here, so I just nodded and filed her words away in my “fun facts” file. Those days were full of new experiences and ideas. One of these days I’ll write more about that time.

For now, suffice it to say that we are all born into a paradigm, not of our choosing. The time and place and many other factors determine what we’re raised to believe and expect. Generally, we are taught that our paradigm is Truth. “Men can have four wives.” “A woman’s place is in the home.” “We can’t afford college.” “We can afford college.” “Alcohol is forbidden.” “Alcohol is essential.” And on and on.

Sometimes we recognize the most destructive elements of our inherited paradigm and reject them, but often they cling to us.

Awkward segue – Parable of the Diaper starts here.

My Baby Boy, age 3

Another little baby boy

Let’s move on to a different baby boy: my son. We had left Saudi Arabia and moved to the Chicago suburbs. We already had two little girls. When my mother-in-law heard that I was finally expecting a BOY, she packed her bags and flew in to be with us for this momentous occasion.

One postpartum evening, as Ziyad started to change our little son’s little diaper, his mom commented, “Men don’t change diapers.”

Ziyad courageously (and recklessly) replied, “This man does.”

And thereupon followed a most singular event: my mother-in-law was rendered speechless.

Time was suspended, all the little woodland creatures stood still, the earth stopped rotating, and the Universe held its breath.

What does one do when one is confronted with facts—truths, even—that don’t match one’s paradigm?

I have to say, to her credit, Mom did the right thing. She chose the road less travelled: she changed her paradigm. She accepted the fact that a man can change a diaper. (To us in the West, this may not sound like a big deal, but to a woman in her culture and generation, it was huge.)

It takes real integrity to do that—to be more devoted to truth than to status quo. It takes humility too—to admit that you were…you know, the W word (”wr#ng”). Too bad that road is so seldom travelled.

A grownup story

Awhile back – around the time a certain presidential candidate was trash-talking Muslims – a Facebook friend posted a strongly worded statement, equating ISIS with Islam. I try to stay out of these kinds of dialogues nowadays, but this time I had to speak up. I told her that I’d lived in the Middle East for ten years, I knew many Muslims, and I could say from experience that her stereotype was dead wrong.

Her response: “I met a Muslim once. He had converted to Christianity, and he said that his family was furious with him. So my assessment about Muslims is accurate. Also, Kathy, you never seem to comment on my wall, except to defend Muslims, so I’m not going to believe you.”

Another grownup story

Roughly the same time, another Facebook friend made a derogatory, stereotyping comment about Saudi Arabia. Once again, I took issue. She replied: “I have a friend to was in Saudi for Desert Storm, and he said…I’m choosing to believe him rather than you.”

This is the road too often travelled: the “my mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts” freeway. These women had a chance to grow, and with eyes wide open, they chose not to.

Each incident like this (and there have been many) reminds me what a blessing it is to be out of that world. The cognitive dissonance, the mental gymnastics required to fight facts and preserve a failed paradigm are exhausting.

And the cost is steep: without a willingness to learn new things, our growth is stunted.

What are we afraid of?

I believe – and I say this to myself too, because not long ago this was me – Conservative Christians are generally unwilling to investigate our paradigm. That’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it: if I’m confident that my paradigm is solid, I won’t be afraid to put it to the test.; if it is flawed, why would I want to cling to it?

Are we actually afraid our paradigm won’t stand up to scrutiny? When my own conservative paradigm was clearly falling apart, I became very afraid. How could I throw it all away after a lifetime of believing? How would other people react? Would anything make sense anymore? Where would I go?

These were genuine fears. But ultimately, I couldn’t stay where I was. I had to put my conservative theology to the test – and it failed. I walked away. It was hard, but not as hard as staying would have been. It was also one of the best decisions of my life.

Circling back to my mother-in-law: she had never learned to read, but I firmly believe that she was smarter than many college-educated people I know – because she was teachable.

Have you ever had a paradigm shift? Did you survive? (Commenting may be disabled right now – apologies if it is! I’m trying to get the issue fixed.)

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YOU MIGHT LIKE TO CHECK OUT THESE POSTS:

The deception of “righteousness”

Muslims and Christians: we are family, Part One

Interfaith harmony: the kinship of Christians and Muslims

A view of a theocracy: Saudi Arabia (and the US?)


FEATURED IMAGE: “Baby in Diaper” by Lance McCord is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


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