Worldviews: How We See the World, Part 4

As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. 00-bent-tree

The Center for Global Awareness is pleased to announce a forthcoming conversation program to enhance global awareness for adult learners called GRASP (Global Awareness Adult Study Program). GRASP’s mission is to enhance adult learners’ global awareness by offering conversation materials that present significant global topics using a unique four dimensional approach: see, know, evolve, and engage (SEEK). Participants will be able to see different perspectives and views, know more about significant global topics, evolve attitudes and shift behaviors, and engage more actively in helping to solve pressing global concerns through interacting more deeply with others.

We at CGA think it is as important to see different perspectives and views of global topics as it is to know about the topics. Therefore, we are developing new materials to enhance this “see” skill for adult learners. One of the ways to help us see different perspectives is to understand different worldviews. One of our forthcoming books, Worldviews: How We See the World, addresses the see dimension. I would like to share with you a condensed version of the first chapter of this book: An Introduction to Worldviews. Please follow our 4-part blog series on worldviews.

Worldviews: A Tool for Understanding Other Perspectives

When worldviews are not in our awareness nor acknowledged, stronger parties with more dominant worldviews may advertently or inadvertently try to impose their worldviews on others. Therefore, understanding worldviews can be a tool for recognizing and analyzing conflicts and tensions when fundamental differences divide groups of people. 12-burning-ritualsWhen each side of a conflict is understood according to their particular worldview, places of connection and divergence may become clearer, leading to a better understanding of the conflict or situation.

Worldviews, with their embedded meanings, can be the seedbed from which new shared meanings may emerge. By looking at the stories, rituals, myths, and metaphors used by a group of people holding a similar worldview, we can learn efficiently and deeply about their worldview and what matters to them and how they make meaning. These shared meanings may arise as people co-create new stories, design new rituals, establish shared values, and find inclusive metaphors. In any given contentious debate or conflict, established societal values, such as security, family, and responsibility, will emerge. Because people relate to these values differently when they hold different worldviews, misunderstandings and negative judgments about “the other side” may follow. As people become aware of the existence of different worldviews, they may stop expecting “the other” to make sense of the way they perceive the world, and realize instead that “the other” makes sense of the problem from their own worldview. In other words, the other side’s perceived outrageous or nonsensical ideas may actually become reasonable and sensible when seen from their point of view.

Below is an example of recognizing common values and shows the existence of divergent worldviews in conversations between advocates on both sides of the abortion conflict in Canada and the United States.

Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates value benevolence, universalism, and security, but their worldviews lead to them to see these values differently. Pro-life advocates, for example, may see all life as sacred from the moment of conception, and suggest that no human being should second-guess God or the Universe in its life-creating and life-ending capacity. Their idea of benevolence thus extends to the unborn fetus as well as to the other people involved in an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. Pro-choice advocates are no less benevolent, but are apt to focus their efforts to improve and enhance welfare on those already born. 13-pro-life-demonstratorsTheir worldview may place more credence in science, or involve a different notion of when human life begins, such as at the point the fetus is viable outside the womb or when a woman first discerns life within.

Part of the reason that the abortion debate has become so heated and volatile is that it is bound up with social and legal rules. Both sides would like their views to be universal, at least within the countries of Canada or the United States. Many pro-life advocates argue against public funding for, or provision of, abortion services. Many pro-choice advocates argue for public funding and universal availability of these services. As these two directions for universal application of norms, standards, and public services have clashed, the intractable conflict between the two sides has escalated. The value of security also plays out in the pro-life, pro-choice conflict. Pro-life advocates are concerned about the security of unborn children and the families into which they are born. Pro-choice advocates focus on the security of those involved with unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. While both are concerned with security, they differ in some important ways on what security means.

How did pro-choice and pro-life advocates come to see each other’s worldviews, thus building a base of respect for each other that was broad enough to support dialogue and discover shared values? Dialogues convened by the Network for Life and Choice helped pro-life and pro-choice advocates become aware of their differing worldviews, and made the process of uncovering shared aspects of values possible. The facilitators asked participants to do two things that helped reveal their worldviews. They were asked to share personal stories of how they came to their views and to tell each other about their heroes and heroines. In doing so, they revealed things about their identity, what they found meaningful, their ideas about the nature of life, relationships, and “right living.” Listening to these stories, the dialogue participants found it harder to sustain negative images of the other, recognizing instead commonalities that had previously been closed to them. From this base of empathy, they were able to explore shared values with more ease, while not losing sight of the aspects of values they did not share. Similarly, sharing heroes helped participants see what was precious to others, and find values they shared.

Through dialogue, advocates from pro-life and pro-choice perspectives came to see that they shared some values. Both sides agreed about some aspects of security, for example that action to alleviate female and child poverty is desirable and necessary. Similarly, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates agreed on benevolence in the form of adoption services and on ways to limit behavior outside clinics that might hurt or intimidate. 14-pro-choice-demonstratorsThey also agreed that some values should be universal: dignity and respect for all, including the right to advocate for a point of view without fear of violence or reprisal.

As mentioned above, those with different worldviews may find shared meanings as they co-create new stories, design new rituals, and find inclusive metaphors. One of the ways that the pro-choice and pro-life advocates came to see these shared values was through the dialogic process of creating new stories and new identities. Participants in ongoing pro-choice/pro-life dialogue groups reported no diminishment of their ardor as advocates, but they did report that they assumed additional identities as participants in the dialogue. These new identities led them to humanize each other even as they pursued their social and legal agendas about the issue of abortion and ways of dealing with unwanted, unplanned pregnancies.

Worldviews influence how we see ourselves and others and how we make meaning of our lives and relationships. Since resolving conflict and negotiating through a multi-cultural, complex world necessarily involves some kind of change or accommodation, it is essential to understand the operation of worldviews. When people are asked to change their worldview, identity or what they find meaningful, they will often resist. Worldviews keep our lives coherent, giving us a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection. Conflict resolution processes need to help people look into each other’s worldviews without trying to change them. As illustrated by the abortion dialogue example, it is possible to uncover shared values without fundamentally changing worldviews. Developing approaches to uncover shared values is an important area for future development in conflict analysis and resolution.

As long as life continues to be lived, a worldview is susceptible to alteration. An adult’s worldview may, but need not, remain consistent. As a person precedes through his/her life there may be events that compel a radical reformation of outlook. For example, exposure to new ways of thinking through education may induce varying degrees of a changed perspective. Vivid experiences or persuasive encounters may engender dramatic alteration of outlook. Exposure to different cultural practices or mores, or changes in geography or living circumstance, or significant tragedy or success—such experiences may revamp one’s way of thinking about life and meaning. 15-darwin-and-jesus

Purposeful attempts to modify another person’s worldview may not be successful. Stress and internal conflict (for the one who is the target) may show up such an endeavor. For example, when an educator teaching evolution challenges a student who believes in creationism the result may be the student resists or opposes the intrusion. Even a person intimidated or persecuted to change his/her worldview may privately hold fast to his/her outlook. Presenting facts that reinforce a particular worldview does little to persuade other’s to change their worldview to the one that is perhaps more factual accurate.

World views have common components. It is important to keep these in mind as you establish your own worldview, and as you share with others.

1. Absolutes. This is a value or principle that is regarded as universally valid or that may be viewed without relation to other things; good and evil are presented as absolutes. Examples of this concept include, democracy is the best government, individualism is better than collectivism, power always corrupts, competition leads to best outcomes, and economic growth is essential.

2. Infinite Reference Point. Although many will try to deny this fact, all of us seek an infinite reference point. Whether it is God, science, power of the Universe, Man, the nation/state, Agnostism, love, mother Earth, 16-mother-earthor other types of reference point, arguments fall back on this point.

3. Faith. All of us presuppose certain things to be true without absolute proof. There are many inferences or assumptions upon which a worldview is based. This becomes important, for example, when we interact with those who allege, for example, that only the scientist is completely neutral. Some common assumptions are: a personal God exists; man evolved from inorganic material; man is essentially good; reality is material, beliefs form our behaviors.

4. Provides Meaning. All worldviews provide meaning to those who hold fast to their principles. A New Age adherent firmly believes that science does not hold all the answers but quantum waves of energy shape our destiny. Those protesting social injustice believe they have the moral high ground in supporting the downtrodden. Donald Trump supporters believe that a “strong man” can most effectively help their lives.

Even though the globalized worldview seems to have emerged as the most dominant at this time, I have come to the conclusion that none of the worldviews will disappear. If this is so, it means that it will behoove all of us to understand and learn to negotiate different worldviews in order to have a more peaceful, tolerant and viable future. We all have a voice and a critical stake in the future outcome.


  1. How would you engage with someone from a different worldview to resolve a contentious issue?
  2. How would this engagement make you feel?


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