Thomas Kuhn wrote of the “paradigm shift” in his 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It was a true interdisciplinary work which intersected the avenues of natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Kuhn referred to the paradigm shift as the discovery of anomalies and breakthroughs that lead to new questioning of established data and widely held knowledge. These discoveries may eventually lead to a shift in perception psychologically, new waves of energy or possibility in terms of quantum mechanics and in time possibly new human outcomes.

Up until the 19th and early 20th centuries, technology and the environment arguably evolved faster than human understanding of its own psyche and ability. Humans had evolved to sense and react to surroundings. Even during the industrial revolution, humans frequently adjusted to rapidly evolving innovations in ways that still felt like they were moving in a linear manner. Fast forward to the 20th century and something changed. It appeared that human evolution— specifically human consciousness began to collectively evolve at a faster pace than technology, industry and the environment. Humans wanted more and it was in the 20th century that significant divergent movements started to occur and gain traction. Though this list is predominantly western-centric, let’s review some people that have worked to shift paradigms:

  • Carl Jung
  • Abraham Maslow
  • Carl Rogers
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Joseph Schumpeter
  • Karen Horney
  • Jean Baker Miller
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Kurt Lewin
  • Martin Seligman
  • Max Planck
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Albert Ellis
  • Dorothy Height
  • Robert Greenleaf

What do all of these people have in common?

It’s clear that while they may come from different disciplines they are driven by similar core values of love, equity, justice, truth, and future-oriented thinking. Through their values they express an undeniable love for humanity. The love they preach is steadfast, tireless and serves others. Their love is intellectual and serves as a call to social innovation and transformation. The 21st century presents an opportunity to leverage our creative capacities to provide knowledge of rights where there is none; connection to resources where there are few, and hope to where there is too little. Innovation must not be about how far any one individual can go, but instead how far communities can go together.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helps to demonstrate where creativity and innovation rank amongst human needs and why it is so critical for social conditions to be addressed. Human nature simply put responds to crisis. If we are hungry, we eat and if someone is in need, we help. What if we have eaten and no one is calling out for assistance? Do we still seek to help? Do we ever consider that having the ability to eat when hungry or energy to help when asked is a privilege? A privilege should never be apologized for, but what should occur is a regular examination of what our privileges are and what advantages they afford us.

Consider the large numbers of students who do not eat a nutritious breakfast; what might this do them physiologically or cognitively and how might it impede performance and ascension up the hierarchy of needs? What of the parents that can’t attend school functions and how does that impact feelings of love, belonging and self-esteem in their children? There are countless examples in every area of society. All humans have the right to be creative and seek self-actualization but it becomes a luxury without addressing these types of challenges. This leaves the world without the thought, feelings and creations of so many.

Psychologists, social workers, social scientists and human service workers are primed to serve as collaborative leaders in this space. We have the empathy, social intelligence and awareness needed to navigate this terrain with competence and sensitivity. We must also remember our roots and that much of the advancement in the field of psychology came from the dawn of difficult and outright horrific occurrences of the 20th century which eventually led to examining humans in relation to their cultural contexts. It is clear that psychology as a field has always reflected the age it existed in and now will not be any different. Let us work together to define what the legacy of this time will be. Let us redefine the boundaries of our field and expand the scope of our research and expertise.