How we see the world, what we believe about it, creates our experience.
Human beings are meaning makers. Without having an anchor, a view of the world that makes sense of our existence, there’s little to no reason to carry on. As thinking and caring individuals who can rise above biological instincts, we have an urge to make something of ourselves by doing something that matters. Psychologist Artur Nilsson says the meaning we make, our personal view of the world and how it works, is what makes us unique in the animal kingdom.
Every man, whether he is religiously inclined or not, has his own ultimate presuppositions. He finds he cannot live his life without them, and for him they are true. Such presuppositions, whether they be called ideologies, philosophies, notions, or merely hunches about life, exert creative pressure upon all conduct that is subsidiary to them (which is to say, upon nearly all of a man’s conduct). — Gordon W. Allport, psychologist
A worldview or “gestalt” develops in the context of family and culture where we’re socialized to perceive, think and behave in certain ways. With observation, experience, education and hearing stories, we develop beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. And the subconscious mind takes in everything to shape our identity. Into the adult years, our beliefs are generally modified in response to the ultimate questions, challenges and mysteries of life—Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I fit? Is human nature good or bad? Who wins and loses? What constitutes success—wealth, fame, relationships, adventure, lifestyle…? What do I most want from life? Does the end justify the means? What happens when we die? The perennial questions.
The subconscious doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, right or wrong, healthy or not. Its job is to store and hold our beliefs so we can measure everything against them, accepting new information, ideas and experiences that are familiar and rejecting those that are unfamiliar or in conflict. Our beliefs are so firmly established, we’ll arrange to be right by rationalizing, lying, cheating or creating situations that confirm them. What agrees with us is right; what doesn’t is wrong. And that has considerable consequences—as we’ve seen in business and politics.
Writing in Psychology Today, Dan Mager says “For someone who is emotionally attached to the need to be right, all divergent perspectives, ideas, suggestions, and actions must be wrong. The need to be right convinces him or her of the correctness of his or her approach, thus justifying the means to have their way. When this dynamic is acted out, it creates suffering for those caught in its wake.” Keeping an open mind takes tremendous self-confidence, courage and a quest for truth because it requires putting a temporary “hold” on how we see the world and what we think is right.
(Worldviews) inform how we interpret, enact, and co-create reality. They are the fundamental ‘lenses’ through which we see and filter reality, and they interface with our perceptions of global issues in ways that are profound, persistent, and frequently overlooked. Worldviews not only tend to shape how individuals perceive particular issues and their potential solutions, they also tend to influence their willingness to partake in, or politically support, such solutions. Annick de Witt, founder of Worldview Journeys
Lesson to be learned
We don’t hear “worldview” being talked about much, especially not in the media, perhaps because it’s a very personal and complicated subject, and not many people could articulate their view of the world if asked. Appropriately, it’s the domain of psychologists and other behavioral specialists. But in light of recent history, particularly in the political sphere, there are lessons to be learned about mental health when it comes to leadership. For instance, a person can be diagnosed clinically as “mentally competent,” yet hold an unhealthy, even toxic worldview that lacks a moral-ethical compass. Globally, history attests to enormous human tragedies and national setbacks perpetrated by sociopaths. In every domain, neither wealth or celebrity status or charisma qualifies a person to lead.
How you imagine the world determines how you live in it. — David Suzuki, Emeritus professor of genetics.
Negative And Positive Beliefs
While the emphasis of this site is positivity and appreciation, this is an instance where insight into the negative as well as the positive can promote understanding—which can deepen appreciation. The following is borrowed from Psychology Backs the Power of Developing a Positive Worldview by Todd W. Hall, professor of psychology, Biola University, Los Angeles. He excerpted the following from Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win by Fred Kiel.
Beliefs underlying negativity
False Views of Self
- It’s not important to understand what drives me.
- Personal meaning is derived from proving my success to others.
False Views of Others
- People are generally untrustworthy, so you should closely monitor them and not show kindness.
- Creating conflict helps you get at the truth of a situation.
False Views of Goals
- It’s better to focus on the short-term than the long-term.
- It’s better to avoid change unless I am in control of it.
“These beliefs are rooted in a lack of basic trust, lack of self-awareness, and lack of a positive sense of self-worth, which lead a person to constantly seek approval through achievements (an understandable coping strategy that doesn’t work in the long run).”
Beliefs underlying positivity
Healthy View of Self
- Personal meaning is derived from growing and stretching my natural talents.
Healthy View of Others
- People are generally trustworthy.
- All people deserve the same respect, regardless of job status.
- Most people grow and change throughout their adult life (A “growth mindset”).
- Everyone has core strengths that should be engaged.
- The best managers have good relationship skills.
Healthy View of Goals
- All businesses share a responsibility to contribute to the common good.
- Leaders generally desire to leave the world a better place.
“The virtuoso leaders in our study clearly illustrate that the most successful leaders focus on what’s right about the world around them.”
Dr. Hall elaborates four ways to develop a positive worldview, backed by psychology. I summarize them here.
1. Become aware of your filters and develop new lenses for noticing the positive.
2. Seek out new experiences that challenge your implicit negative beliefs.
3. Reflect on new experiences that challenge your beliefs.
4. Connect with people who speak into your life with wisdom and compassion.
What is your worldview? A Test
The Institute for Cultural Evolution (ICE) provides a Worldview Questionnaire designed to place us on one of four major groups—Traditional / Modern / Postmodern / Integrative. And these are described. The test was developed by Annick de Witt, one of the most respected researchers on worldview. By joining the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization (for free) you can get your confidential results (and then unsubscribe if you like). I didn’t do that. But answering the excellent questions was insightful in itself. Even if you don’t join, the ICE home page says, “At the very least, answering the questions is an opportunity to reflect on the distinct worldview frames that make up the political spectrum in most of the Western world.”
Love and fear represent two different lenses through which to view the world. Which I choose to use will determine what I think I see. — Marianne Williamson, author, A Return To Love
I believe worldviews are unique to each of us for good reason—nature and evolution favor variety. In living systems parlance, the more diversity in a system the greater its resilience and potential for adaptation, mutation and innovation. The same with consciousness. Consider that, over time, individuals who hold negative worldviews eventually provide examples of what doesn’t work for the good—qualitative sustainability—of the whole. That’s not a reason to praise or support negative views of the world, but the perspective gives us hope. We learn from our mistakes, personally and socially.
As more parents and teachers learn about the significance of a person’s worldview, the better they can foster positive perceptions in young people—the co-creators of tomorrow. While it’s important to prepare children for the world of family life and work, it’s equally important, arguably even more so, to assist them in finding answers to the perennial questions that empower them to be good, healthy, confident, successful and contributing human beings.
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. — Anais Nin, author and poet
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Great piece David, and on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, as I’ve noticed my world view shift several times throughout my life. What I find most interesting are the energetic shifts that precede the change to my world view. Therefore, my perception is that shifting world views requires (at least to some extent) a willingness to do energetic healing and growth work. Then the world view changes almost naturally.