I was listening to a talk the other day about how our brains develop, and the speaker made some interesting comments that are applicable to all of our lives, especially if we want to grow.
The speaker talked about how we all develop certain schemas. Schemas are categories for the different things in our life. We have a schema for what a dog looks like, or how to ride a bike. We also have schemas for more complex things, like romantic relationships, or what God is like.
Schemas Grow and Change Over Time
Our schemas can grow and change over time. The speaker told a story of when she took her young child to the petting zoo. They saw a miniature horse—an animal her daughter had never seen before. Her daughter looked at the animal quizzically, and finally asked, “Mommy, what kind of dog is that?”
Her daughter had a schema for a dog. The miniature horse sort of looked like a dog, but it was also different. Hence the confusion and the question. That day, her daughter changed her animal schema to include something new. The animal actually wasn’t a dog—it was a miniature horse. Her schema became more complex.
When we encounter something that we haven’t seen before, we generally do one of two things. First, we might assimilate the new information, which means we incorporate the information into a schema that we already have. If a child was introduced to a poodle for the first time, for example, she might assimilate that new information into her dog schema.
If we can’t assimilate the new information, the other option is to accommodate, which means we change our schema to adjust for the new information. In the example above, the child changed her schema of animal and dog when she encountered the miniature horse.
Accommodation = Growth
Assimilation is easy. It doesn’t require very much work. We like assimilation. Accommodation, on the other hand, is more difficult. It requires more of us. Sometimes accommodation can be confusing or painful. However, accommodation is where the real growth occurs.
Changing Our View of God
Let’s look at a more complex example that many people go through. Let’s say you have a particular view of God and religion that you grew up with. But then you encounter something in your learning or everyday life that doesn’t fit with your schema. You can either (a) try to assimilate this new information or (b) accommodate your existing schema.
The Challenge of Accommodation
The work of accommodation can be painful, but my encouragement is to enter into it with courage, rather than shying away from it. Learning, growth, and development are good things. But this growth only happens when we take the risk to evaluate and accommodate our existing schemas when they no longer fit.