Divided: The Cultural Divide as Seen Through a Religious Lens

What is driving us apart in America? I am very concerned about the deep cultural divide in the United States and the detrimental effects this divide is having on our psychological well-being, democracy, and sustainability efforts for a fragile planet. The warring factions are talking past each other in a frenzied effort to be right. What can be done to help stop the hemorrhaging divisions?1

Of course, the divide is so complex and deep-seated that I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I have thought of a way in which I can shed some light on the divide, through a project involving religious views that I have pieced together.

Religion, in general, has often been accused of causing and promoting divisions in our society, today and throughout history. But religion is not a stand-alone entity with its own independent consciousness and actions. It is made up of people who make decisions and perform actions in the name of religion. To give life meaning, people with different psychological outlooks, experiences, family histories, identities, and geographic locations gravitate to particular religions or other ideological associations that suit them.2

In one of my yoga classes, the instructor was gingerly explaining the religious connections between Buddhism and yoga. Someone in the class indignantly piped up that Buddhism was not a religion and should not be used in a religious context. The instructor, not wanting to cause a stir, quickly demurred. Clearly they had different views on how to define religion. I wanted to say that it depends on the definition of religion, but also wanting to go on with the class, I wisely decided against it.

Since I have been throwing around the term “religion” rather freely, it is time to provide a definition. As expected, I found that there is no scholarly consensus on what precisely constitutes a religion. In fact, I would agree with some thinkers, such as Daniel Dubuisson, who have pointed out that there is a Judeo-Christian and Western bias in the definition and study of religion. Religion is a modern concept that developed from Christianity and was then applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures. Before 1800, when contact with the West was minimal among most of the world’s population, the term “religion” had no meaning. Religion was not a concept separated from everyday life. The notion of a separation of church and state was unimaginable.3

For better or worse, Western ways of thinking and doing have permeated—although they have not completely transformed—cultures around the world. Some argue that regardless of the definition, it is not appropriate to apply the term “religion” to non-Western cultures, which aim mostly to give some sort of meaning to life. Despite this warning, I will go ahead with what I think is an appropriate definition for this blog project.

George Lindbeck defines religion as “a kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought … it is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.”[1] The esteemed sociologist Émile Durkheim defined religion as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.” By sacred things, he meant things “set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community.”[2] I like the part in Lindbeck’s definition about religion making possible the description of realities. Therefore, even if one is an avowed atheist, his or her description of reality is framed through a religious lens. Durkheim’s description of religion as a set of beliefs uniting a moral community is important in defining religion. Both definitions are important for my purposes in this blog.

I have pieced together several different ideas to explain what I will be referring to as religion. It may be a cultural system of selected behaviors and practices, usually of an ethical, moral nature and as a way of seeing the world.  These worldviews, texts, sacred places, or prophesies claim to connect humanity to the supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual realm. Different religions may or may not contain a supernatural being or beings.4

Religious practices may include music, dance, art, festivals, feasts, trances, initiations, and rituals. On a more somber note, religious practices may include sermons, tributes to deities, sacrifices, funeral and marriage services, meditation, prayer, and acts of public service. Religions often have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, symbols, and holy places. Religions may contain symbolic stories, which are sometimes thought of as literally true by followers. These stories, usually mythic in their universal tones, explain the purpose of human life, the origin of place, and our place in the universe. Traditionally, faith, in addition to reason, has been considered a source of religious beliefs.

I find that religion, used in the broadest sense, can give us a glimpse as to how people see reality very differently. As I observe, experience, study, and visit these different religious associations, and as I talk to people who have a religious connection, I hope to show that while these religions appear to be very different on the surface level, at a deep, invisible level, religious beliefs reveal similar psychological foundations and ethical understandings that undergird all human behaviors. These similar psychological foundations and ethical understandings are expressed through mythic stories and legends that can often be found in religious services, if we look beyond the superficial layer. We are taking our cultural differences too literally and driving ourselves further apart, because we are ignoring, or refusing to look deeper into, our consciousness to find the hidden reserve of universal commonalities that bind us together as a species.

In this blog series, I will be exploring some of these profound psychological reasons or mechanisms that unite us as humans. These mechanisms are often expressed in religious settings through mythic stories and legends, which may not be literally true but have an insightful significance.


Questions to Consider

  1. How would you define religion?
  2. Do you have a religious connection? Why or why not?

[1]  George A. Lindbeck,  Nature of Doctrine. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1984, 33.

[2] Émile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1915.

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. The CGA recently launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. The simple acts of talking and listening allow us to see different perspectives, transcend deep political and cultural divides, and engage with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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The Hard Road to “Normal”

Life is hard! This thought came to my mind again after watching an insightful documentary on PBS called Beyond the Wall. It is part of the America Reframed series, now in its sixth season. I am not going to critique the film; instead, I will give my impressions of the thoughts and feelings that were raised for me while viewing the documentary.

It was a way for me to see the lives of a group of men who had been incarcerated for various felonies. Once they were released, the story traced how they had fashioned a new life from the disorder and chaos of their former lives. According to the film, 65% of the inmates were substance abusers when they entered prison.

The film centered on a counselor and his interactions with several of the former inmates. The counselor had previously been an inmate convicted of violent crimes, and a drug user as well. However, with a great deal of difficulty, he had reformed and found he had skills in helping fellow users and felons to sort out their lives. He became credentialed as a counselor, and now he felt it was his calling to help inmates make the painful and difficult transition from their former lives to “normal” lives without drug use, crime, and violence.

I was struck by the fact that many of the former prisoners proudly identified with their past violent acts. One man had tattooed practically his whole body with marks of violent acts, past conquests, and times he had defied death. His status as a young man was wrapped up in violence, drug use, and having “fun.” During the interview, he clearly articulated that living the normal life of hard work and attachment to family was nearly impossible, since he didn’t have any status in that world. He realized he never would be able to attain status in a normal world—the kind of status and respect he had in his former criminal life. After a time of getting straight, guided by the counselor, he returned to his drug abuse and died of an overdose at the age of 32.Inmates

Another former inmate was determined to live a normal life and care for his six children. He got a job at a restaurant, and for a while he worked hard and inched his way up the pay scale. He had dreams of becoming a chef and providing a living for his children. But after several weeks of work, it seemed he was having a difficult time living the normal life. He said the job and home life were boring, and the confidence in his voice that he was going to beat the pull of chaos and disorder was fading. At the end of the film, he was appearing in front of a judge for violence against his wife and children. The judge issued a restraining order, restricting his contact with his children and wife. He later returned to prison.

It struck me that as humans, we have often been tempted by the latest pleasures and stimulations, without regard for the consequences. But in our long history, if one succumbed to these temptations, one’s life would be short lived. Since women have traditionally cared for the children, and have needed help in doing so, out of necessity it has been incumbent upon men to help provide for their children. Although not all men complied, and some women found themselves in dire straits, it has worked well enough to see an exploding human population.

But our society has shifted. What struck me after watching the documentary is that while the state has taken over the responsibility of keeping children alive, the temptations enticing men away from family and community have skyrocketed. The number of drugs has escalated, to the point that users can be in a perpetual state of ecstasy, if they wish. They need to worry only about finding enough funds to keep them in their drug-induced stupor. Shorn of responsibility for their children and obligations to their community, what do these men actually have to live for?

No responsibilities and endless temptations, plus many other factors, have led to a perfect storm for these men of repeated incarcerations, fatherless families, and torn-apart communities. What are the solutions? I think the counselor in the film, who lives this drama out day to day, made some remarks that get to the crux of the issue. He first stated that a deep spiritual connection immensely helps the former inmate in the transition process.  Without it, according to him, most fail. Reframing one’s mind from immediate self-gratification to obtaining satisfaction and worth from helping others is a huge and difficult step.Free Rehab Center, Long Beach, CA

The counselor had at his fingertips a number of halfway houses and detox centers that were readily available for the ex-prisoners. They just had to commit to wanting to go there. That commitment, as evidenced in numerous scenes in the film, was very difficult for them to make. He also said that going outside of oneself to blame someone else or an external entity was a sign that someone was not ready for the hard transformation. One former inmate angrily shouted as he was making another trip back to prison, “They never give you a handbook for what it is like in the outside world.”

I would highly recommend watching this intriguing documentary. We must talk and act sensibly about the complicated issues of incarceration, drug policy, and the breakdown of community. This documentary clearly shows that these intractable problems need a multifaceted solution. Those on the left, who generally favor social programs, and those on the right, who generally advocate for personal responsibility, need to come together. Both of their viewpoints and all of their ideas are needed to help those who are the most vulnerable citizens of our country.


Questions for Educators

  1. Have you ever experienced what it is like to drastically change a behavior or behaviors? Was it difficult for you?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. The CGA recently launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. The simple acts of talking and listening allow us to see different perspectives, transcend deep political and cultural divides, and engage with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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Reflections on Humanity and Goats

By Grace Parazzoli

“The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

For the reason Emerson states so perfectly, I crave open water. Surrounded by nothing but sea, and occasional islands in the distance, without phones or internet or material possessions beyond what will fit in a backpack, I am never tired. The world feels like a very different place. Concerns about politics and the future are, temporarily and seemingly miraculously, replaced by something else. I think that something else is pure wonder. bvi sunset

My husband grew up sailing off the coast of Washington State, and every now and then, we leave our urban life to live on a chartered boat for a week at a time. He is captain, while some friends and I contribute odd jobs like cooking, pulling lines, and driving the dinghy that takes us onshore. The last time we did this, we visited the British Virgin Islands, where my husband had been a decade prior, and which he recalled as being lush and beautiful.

Beautiful, yes. The islands were badly hit by Hurricane Irma, and their lush vegetation is just starting to grow back. On some parts of some of the islands, houses are nothing more than floors and shards. The Bitter End Yacht Club on the island Virgin Gorda, which my husband reminisced about loving during his previous trip to the BVI, is decimated. One morning, while docked off Spanish Town in Virgin Gorda, I went on a run and found myself in a graveyard of boats, most damaged beyond repair. hurricane irma

But as we spoke to locals, story after story attested to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of communal bonds. Houses are being rebuilt—together. We heard people make donation requests—not for themselves, but for the local charities they had always supported. One couple on the island of Anegada spoke about the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. They had no electricity and just a few cans of food. What quite literally saved them was a pilot from Puerto Rico who flew over to the island bearing a planeful of pizza! At the time, Puerto Rico had not yet been hit by Hurricane Maria; if only we as a nation could show Puerto Rico the same kindness. 

But we aren’t doing that. I realize that I may be painting a false picture in this article: one in which humans are all humanity—in the sense of compassion and generosity—and nature is a ruthless destroyer. We were only met with kindness during the trip; individually, I do tend to see only the generosity and compassion in people. Yet during the trip, there were undeniable reminders of the collective role of humankind in natural devastation. The one that is most vivid in my mind is the goats.

When we stopped on the island of Prickly Pear, the sight before us was of building foundations, fallen beams, and goats. goats 2The goats were everywhere, meandering around and occasionally stopping to scratch along a piece of debris. They are adorable animals, their symbolism less so. As Center for Global Awareness president Denise Ames wrote in her book Waves of Global Change:

Sailors used to leave goats on islands to guarantee that on their return trips, they would have an abundance of fresh meat. But with no natural predators, the goats bred faster than the sailors could eat them. Lacking natural limits, the goats ultimately devoured the island’s vegetation and over-taxed the environment to such a degree that native species could no longer survive. The multiplying populations of goats in due course starved to death. Our “island” the Earth has suffered the consequences of our goat-like instincts to consume everything in sight without regard for the future. With no natural predators or self-imposed limits, we are in peril of suffering the same fate.

Wildlife biologist Juliet Lamb has noted that half of recorded extinctions have taken place on islands. “Ever since humans began moving around the world, we’ve wreaked havoc by unleashing novel species in sensitive island ecosystems,” Lamb writes. “Rats, rabbits, cats, goats: we love species that breed fast and have voracious, generalist appetites. For an island native, it’s a perfect storm of destruction.” She discusses attempts to eradicate goat and other invasive species, a subject explored with typical profundity by the podcast Radiolab, in the episode “Galapagos.” goats 1

What hath humankind wrought? I haven’t broached the role of global warming in storm patterns and extreme weather conditions, because others have done it much better than I ever could. But in the small creatures that roam around these islands, our influence is undeniable, the uncertainty of our and our planet’s future brought back to mind.

That’s what happens when you stop looking out at the horizon, as Emerson wrote about, and start looking a little closer. The exhaustion returns.


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you agree with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think about the analogy comparing Earth to islands overpopulated by goats?

The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In February 2018, the CGA launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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Can We Ever Learn to Get Along?

By Nancy Harmon

As you may have read on our website and in previous blogs, the Center for Global Awareness is launching an exciting new effort called Gather: Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. We are making our materials user-friendly for adult study and discussion groups, with the aim of providing opportunities to enhance awareness of critical global issues and create possibilities for reaching across cultural divides in our increasingly combative world. (You can find more information about Gather in recent blogs by Denise and on our website at www.global-awareness.org.) Denise and I piloted Gather in January by teaching a class called “Worldviews: Five Perspectives on the World.”

Our goal was to introduce our worldviews concept, described in Denise’s book Five Worldviews: The Way We See the World as a way to understand differing points of view with increased empathy, which could help in reaching across cultural divides. We did this through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Oasis, national organizations that provide lifelong educational opportunities for people over 62 by offering affordable classes on a vast variety of topics, from archaeology to yoga. Participants’ curiosity and desire to stay informed and share ideas provided a ready audience for the beginning of our Gather program.


CGA president Denise Ames giving a presentation on worldviews

Many people recognize and are concerned that our discourse in the US has been changing over the years, especially since the last presidential election. It has become so abrasive that we cannot participate in civil discussions of differing ideas. Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend about the recent March for Our Lives, focused on ending gun violence, and he told me of a group of people he knows who didn’t want a pro-life group to march next to them. What a missed chance to find common ground and shared values!

This is just the kind of attitude Gather has been created to explore and respond to—namely, the attitude that “if you don’t agree with us about everything, we are not interested in you.”

Denise and I advertised our class in the Osher and Oasis catalogs as an opportunity to look at five different ways of describing the ideas and beliefs present in the world today: indigenous; modern, including populist left and populist right; fundamentalist; globalized; and transformative (as presented in Denise’s book Five Worldviews). In our class, we examined how people’s values and beliefs are formed, hoping that better understanding can lead to more curiosity and compassion for one another.

Wind turbines

The transformative worldview seeks alternatives to the environmental, economic, and social problems created by globalism.

There was a lot of interest in the topic. Both classes filled up quickly, and one even had a waiting list. After introductions and a brief overview of the syllabus, we gave participants a unique six-question quiz, designed by Denise to help people identify their own worldviews. We were quite surprised to find that nearly everyone in both classes identified with the transformative worldview, which seeks alternatives to the environmental, economic, and social problems created by globalism. A Powerpoint of pictures, cartoons, and posters then illustrated some of the main qualities of each worldview, followed by lively discussions of participants’ experiences with the different worldviews.

We then introduced the ideas of Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, professor of ethical leadership at New York University, and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. This book takes on the chasm between liberals and conservatives with some fascinating research that also helps to explain our worldviews concept. Haidt’s interviews with a wide variety of people have helped him identify six foundations on which our moral decision-making is based: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression. All have contributed to the survival of the human race throughout history. His book provides convincing evidence that while liberals base decisions mostly on the foundations of care/harm and fairness/cheating, conservatives base their decisions on all the foundations. Thus, the divide emerges. It has now been exacerbated by new political rhetoric and media bias that tend to demonize “the other.”

Haidt believes that the chasm dividing America is the most serious threat to our nation today. His research has led him to the conclusion that, as products of human evolution and the tribalism of the past, we adopt moral beliefs that bind us to those who think like us and blind us to the values of others. In addition, through hundreds of interviews in which he asked people to respond to a moral dilemma, he found that moral decisions come from our gut—from intuition, rather than moral reasoning. Reasoning comes later, as we attempt to justify the decision already made. Haidt contends that we will not be able to change one another’s minds about strongly held beliefs, so we must reach out to the other side to identify common ground.

You may be wondering by now if, during the Gather classes, we accomplished our goal of discovering ways to communicate effectively with those in a different camp. Participants did seem to be convinced that trying to get people to change their minds through discussion—usually an argument—was probably futile. Therefore, going for the common ground made more sense. They came up with a list of ideas that would contribute to a productive and civil conversation. Here is the list:

  1. Show sincere curiosity. Don’t start a discussion unless you really want to know.
  2. Take the heat out with ground rules for discussion from the start. For example, no one gets to talk for more than two minutes without inviting a response.
  3. Examine the disgust factor. We have very strong feelings regarding politics today. Find the human face.
  4. Use respectful language.
  5. Listen actively. Don’t interrupt or try to have your next response at the ready.
  6. Be ready to acknowledge and even appreciate a good point when/if it’s made.
  7. Acknowledge differences, while trying to find commonality. Help each other through the discussion.

7 guidelinesTo some participants, what seemed to be more problematic than having a discussion was finding someone to discuss with. As Haidt has pointed out, we are increasingly able to surround ourselves with ideas and people we agree with. Our mobility allows us to live in neighborhoods of our choice; our news coverage is often reported by journalists with a bias in one direction or another; religious denominations now promote political points of view; and the internet delivers us information tailored to our leanings. Denise and I were hoping for a class made up of various worldviews, yet participants were pretty homogeneous in their worldviews. Some participants believed that people on another side wouldn’t be willing to talk to us. Others didn’t want to risk alienating someone they loved and respected.

How do we find those who are different from us and willing to talk? One example just appeared for my husband and me at a lecture about Trump and Jacksonian politics. My husband asked the presenter how he responded to those who disagreed with him, admitting that he was struggling with this issue. At the end of the event, a man approached us and said, “I’m a Trump supporter, and I’d like to talk with you.”


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you agree with Haidt that we are facing a crisis of civility and understanding that threatens the future of our nation? Why or why not?
  2. If you do agree that there is a crisis, is it important for us as citizens to take responsibility for tackling this crisis?
  3. How can we find people to talk to about these issues?

The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In February 2018, the CGA launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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A New National Narrative: Concluding Insights of the Transformative Worldview

Today we conclude our blog series on the transformative worldview. For a review of the rest of this series, please visit the other articles through the following links: Part 1 (introduction), Part 2 (cultural patterns), Part 3 (political patterns), Part 4 (social patterns), Part 5 (economic patterns), and Part 6 (environmental patterns). Thank you for joining us as we explore this important way of seeing the world!

Events today pose a huge challenge for us: environmental degradation, a huge socioeconomic gap, unchecked individualism, a political system out of touch with reality, and worldviews unable to deal with future challenges. Our innate behaviors and historical experiences have not prepared us well for the urgency of the global issues that confront us; we do not have a firm track record that we can draw on. Our innate behaviors as a species have equipped us to deal with threats such as marauding lions or the needs of our immediate 25-member group, but now we must deal with the threat of planet-wide environmental devastation and the needs of our immediate 7+ billion–member group!

We often turn to our political or religious leaders as potential saviors. However, they are also overwhelmed with the issues, or they are caught in their own intransigent, outdated worldview. Our political leaders in the U.S. are adept (somewhat) at dealing with isolated problems in a legal, deliberative, cumbersome way, with built-in mechanisms to stymie impulsive actions. But they have failed to provide a vision of where we need to head and what we need to do. With their enslavement to corporations for their campaign donations, their intransigent bipartisanship, and their entrenched worldviews, many politicians are unable to provide the leadership the citizenry so desperately craves.34 President Donald Trump, US

The 2016 election in the U.S. of President Donald Trump was a rejection of many liberal democratic principles that the country and Western nations were founded upon. Half of the people in the U.S. voted for an authoritarian-type leader who is dispensing with the checks and balances carefully put in place over the years. They put their faith in a government run by wealthy oligarchs. Trump supporters are blithely rejecting our liberal traditions, just to cut through the bureaucracy and get results that benefit them. These political actions, unprecedented in U.S. history, are sure to have profound consequences.

Some of our religious leaders have also failed us, although many are working hard to bring about change. Many religious people, for example, have scoffed at the idea of climate change. However, some evangelical leaders are now alarmed that we humans are contaminating God’s creation and are calling for action. Other religious people continue to disbelieve the hard scientific findings. They are embedded in the minutiae of their faith and fail to see the “big picture” issues that are causing such distress around the world.  35 Religious Leaders

A challenge today and in the future is how to accommodate diverse opinions without losing social and national cohesiveness. There is a need to reduce the rigid dogma of fundamentalism, without losing the sense of shared meaning and purpose that traditional religion offers. There is a need to embrace the technological wonders of the globalized worldview that connect people throughout the world, yet reject the rampant consumerism and social divides that economic globalization fosters. There is a need to counter the pessimism, obscurity, elitism, and uninspiring and fragmenting effects of postmodern thought, without losing the ability to probe below surface meanings. What worldview will emerge to replace the shattered worldviews that have failed to provide a framework enabling us to address vast global problems?36 Village in Mexico, photo Denise Ames

One drawback to the transformative worldview is that many enthusiasts feel self-righteous about their “cause” and are unwilling to listen to others. The sanctimonious behavior among some has estranged people who otherwise might be drawn to worthy causes. While shouting tolerance and the rejection of hate, many have shown intolerance to views other than their own, especially on college campuses. That hardly makes for an inclusive movement! A willingness to listen and consider other views and people will do much to further many of the positive qualities of the transformative worldview.

Those supporting a transformative worldview need not totally disregard the other worldviews in shaping a new one, yet they need to be selective and mindful in fitting the values of the other worldviews into a new framework. Even though the traditional, modern, and globalized worldviews are the dominant paradigms at this point in time, the transformative worldview is gaining momentum and continues to mount a vigorous challenge to mainstream ideas, while offering viable options for a sustainable and more equitable future. Which worldview or combination of worldviews will global citizens choose for our future? While some people are already taking action, others are going through a process of debate, consideration, and deliberation. We all have a voice and critical stake in the outcome.

For many people, the transition to a new way of thinking and acting is a difficult one to make. But many are inspired to make the world livable and safe for our children and grandchildren. Although we eagerly install fluorescent lightbulbs or turn off our computers at night, deep structural, systemic changes are difficult to accomplish on our own. Our worldviews are embedded in the way society is structured; it is hard to make the leap to another worldview. Malcolm Gladwell described a “tipping point,” when things quickly make a dramatic shift to something different. The signals indicating that we need to shift to a different worldview are becoming ever more readily apparent. The leap to a transformative worldview is ever more urgent.  39 Tipping Point

It is essential to create a different worldview that can enable us to avert environmental collapse, deal with the myriad issues facing us today and in the near future, and forge a way of life that is happier and more fulfilling. Inspired by these goals, I have written my book Five Worldviews: How We See the World from a transformative worldview perspective, promoting it as a viable worldview today and in the future. After much research and reflection, I find that transformation is necessary to help us make the shift to a new way of thinking and acting that will move us into a new and more creative, tolerant, compassionate, and sustainable relationship with each other and our world.  40 Transcending worldviews

One step in formulating and expanding a transformative worldview is one that you have just accomplished: reading about worldviews. My goal is not for us to forcibly convert people to a transformative worldview. Rather, through listening, kindness, and compassionate conversations, we can actively demonstrate to others that the transformative worldview is a life-enhancing future scenario in which all people have a crucial stake. 41 no titleIt is my intent and hope that through engaging with others and seeing other perspectives, we can shift our consciousness to a transformative worldview. We can make that leap!


Questions to Consider
1.  Do you see the transformative worldview as a viable alternative worldview?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. The CGA recently launched Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues. The simple acts of talking and listening allow us to see different perspectives, transcend deep political and cultural divides, and engage with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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A New National Narrative: Environmental Patterns of the Transformative Worldview

Today’s blog considers the environmental patterns of the transformative worldview. For more in this seven-part series on the transformative worldview, please see Part 1 (introduction), Part 2 (cultural patterns), Part 3 (political patterns), Part 4 (social patterns), and Part 5 (economic patterns). Next week we will conclude this series with some final observations.

Those holding a transformative worldview treat the environment as not just an economic commodity. They feel that the Earth must be healthy to sustain humans and our fellow species. This view represents a shift in attitude that has been gaining momentum throughout the world. A new ecological awareness has awakened the perception of the interdependence of everything in nature, where every event has an effect on everything else.

Humans are seen as part of the mystery of the Universe and not isolated, separate, superior entities. With this awareness comes responsibility, along with an urgency to repair the damage done to the environment and halt further environmental destruction. Even tourism has taken an ecological turn for many travelers who opt for popular ecotourism destinations such as Costa Rica and Belize. Ecotourism involves visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undeveloped natural areas; it is intended as a low-impact and small-scale alternative to large-scale commercial tourism. 29 Ecostourism in Costa Rica

The human population grew exponentially in the 20th century and continues to be an urgent issue in the 21st century. The carrying capacity of the Earth is severely strained by our current population. Will our Earth be able to sustain 9 to 12 billion people, a number projected to occur around 2050? If those future billions have a lifestyle like Americans today, the capacity for the Earth to provide resources will be severely compromised. 30

The dire consequences of climate change have galvanized millions of people adhering to a transformative worldview to work toward alternative and renewable energy, especially in the form of wind and solar energy. Our fossil fuel–dependent lifestyle has finally brought world-wide attention, even among some Western politicians, as a shift from our addiction to oil and coal is slowly underway. Events such as the first Earth Day in 1970, the Rio Environmental Conference in 1992, the Kyoto Treaty in 2001, the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015 address the importance of a safe, healthy environment for sustainable human life. A growing number of people think it is of utmost importance to save the planet from environmental ravages.

A connected issue to energy, urban revitalization, is forcing many of us to rethink our car-dependent city configurations and accompanying suburban sprawl. Because of the excessive amounts of energy used to maintain this way of life, efforts are underway to switch to more energy-efficient modes of public transportation. Additionally, the alienating nature of suburbs has sparked rethinking among some people and a movement toward more community-focused neighborhoods that reduce commuting time and conserve valuable suburban land for agriculture and biodiversity.  31

Some ecologists suggest replacing the current economic measurement method—gross domestic product (GDP), which merely measures national spending without regard to economic, environmental, or social well-being—with a genuine progress indicator (GPI). The GPI, created by the organization Redefining Progress in 1995, measures the general economic and social well-being of all citizens. For example, if a business is responsible for an oil spill, the costs associated with the cleanup contribute to an increase in GDP, since the cleanup costs actually grow the economy, according to this measurement. But GDP ignores the environmental damage of the oil spill, which has a negative long-lasting cost and impact. In calculating the GPI, the costs of the oil spill would be subtracted from the total, since it damages the environment over the long-term. When using GPI calculations, the U.S. economy has been stagnant since 1970.i 32

A growing number of ecologists see the Earth as an interconnected organism that awakens our sacred relationship with nature and positively supports our psychic well-being. This shift of consciousness revives an ancient mystical accord with nature that has sustained humans for millions of years. A modern worldview has contributed to a destructive relationship with the Earth. Some people feel that a more benign connection would improve human health and mental well-being, as well as prevent the extinction of many endangered species, which add to the diversity of life.

Even though we are overshooting Earth’s carrying capacity, it is not too late to make changes. Our human capacity for thinking long-term, globally, and holistically does not have a great deal of historical evidence, yet such thinking is not beyond our capabilities. 33We can change, and we must do so. Adjusting our thinking to view the long-term consequences of our actions is paramount. Growth needs to be reconsidered as the mantra of our society. Instead, acting within the limits of our Earth’s capacity holds the key to our future well-being and survival.


Questions to Consider

  1. What do you think is the most important thing you can do individually and collectively to preserve the diversity of life?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

i “Genuine Progress Indicator,” Redefining Progress. http://www.rprogress.org/sustainability_indicators/genuine_progress_indicator.htm.

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A New National Narrative: Economic Patterns of the Transformative Worldview

In Part 5 of our seven-part series on the transformative worldview, we consider the economic patterns of this worldview. For an introduction to the transformative worldview, please visit Part 1. Part 2 discusses the cultural patterns of the transformative worldview, while Part 3 considers its political patterns and Part 4 its social patterns.

Those holding a transformative worldview believe in creating a more just, equitable, and sustainable economy that places less stress on an overtaxed environment. They are trying to counter the damage from global capitalism and its related values of greed and consumption that have been inflicted upon the human psyche. Many individuals and organizations with a transformative worldview struggle to eliminate free trade agreements such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the WTO (World Trade Organization), which have wreaked havoc on local economies, workers, small businesses, and the environment, while enriching multinational corporations and their shareholders. 22 Local business, Buckhannon, West Virginia

Some people are working to reinstate bilateral trade agreements, where each trading nation makes its own mutually beneficial trade agreements. Others are working to set up alternative business forms, such as nonprofit businesses, cooperatives, and local, community, or employee-owned enterprises. For example, a committed group of individuals in my local community is working to establish a community-owned bank in which the state and local governments deposit their excess funds. The profits from this enterprise are channeled back into the local community rather than to out-of-state investors. Many people struggle to break the corporate lock on the “economic imagination” and develop diverse enterprises in which workers have a stake in their workplace, and the sustainability of the Earth is given utmost consideration. 23 Green City Growers. a cooperative

Some people argue that we can more effectively deal with the extraordinary rate of economic change by actively participating in life choices and not embracing rampant consumerism. Natural capitalism, which places priority on the well-being and sustainability of the Earth, is among the many economic changes that are emerging. Other significant economic changes include socially responsible investing, social entrepreneurship, micro-credit banking, community development, local businesses, self-managed worker-run enterprises, cooperative enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and disinvestment measures. For example, some people on college campuses are calling on college financial administrators to disinvest their investments from the fossil fuel industry. There is also a renewed call for stricter financial sector regulations, a cap on excessive executive compensation, the breaking up of large corporate holdings, and other reforms.  24 Small Local Loans

One alternative to the globalized economy is the redevelopment of the once-flourishing local or domestic economy. Local community members, government officials, and business owners can alleviate the wealth depletion of the local economy by returning to “economic self-determination.” This return to local capitalism reduces dependency on multinational corporations while creating wealth-accumulating enterprises at the local level. Local economies can produce, market, and process many of their own products for local or regional consumption, reducing transportation and middleman costs. 25

Local capitalism can bring local economies into harmony with the surrounding ecosystem, foster cooperation within the community, and substitute more personalized local products for more expensive imported, and often substandard, goods. In order for such a change to occur, the real effort must come from the local community, which can better utilize available resources in imaginative ways and provide more economical and high-quality food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and energy. A transfer of economic interests and activities from urban, core centers to the local community can reduce dependency on the core and revive local economic vibrancy.i

Concerns are arising over the fact that our industrial form of agricultural production is no longer able to meet the needs of the world’s population. Along with industrial agriculture’s enormous demands for irrigation water, its chemical inputs deplete the fertility of the soil, and its fossil fuel dependency contributes to global warming. Alternatives to mass-produced, industrial agriculture are emerging, such as the rise of sustainable, organic, and local agriculture. An alternative to industrial agriculture, organic farming connects what one eats to how one lives. It also considers the person charged with spraying destructive chemicals on foods and the considerable harm done to his/her health. 26 Organic greenhouse farming

A number of communities scattered throughout the world are working to incrementally achieve the goal of greater local businesses rooted in the community. For example, in the United States, a worker-owned initiative is located in the economically hard-hit city of Cleveland, Ohio. The “Cleveland Model” involves an integrated array of worker-owned cooperative enterprises targeted at the $3 billion purchasing power of such large-scale “anchor institutions” as the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital, and Case Western Reserve University. The association of enterprises also includes a revolving fund, so that profits made by the businesses help establish new ventures. A worker-owned company, Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, is a state-of-the-art commercial laundry that provides clean linens for area hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels.27 Cleveland Model It includes 50 worker-owners, pays above-market wages, provides health insurance, and is still able to compete successfully against other commercial laundries. Another enterprise, Ohio Cooperative Solar (OCS), provides weatherization services and installs, owns, and maintains solar panels. Each year, two to four new worker-owned ventures are planned for opening. A 20-acre land trust will own the land of the worker-owned businesses.ii A revitalization of the local economy does not mean isolation and a complete rejection of the global capitalist economy, but rather an integration of global and local economies.

Technological Patterns of the Transformative Worldview

Some people supporting a transformative worldview dispute the notion that scientific progress and our faith in technological fixes can solve all complex problems and make the world a better, safer place to live in. Instead, the transformative worldview has a tacit understanding that science, technology, and a consumer-materialistic way of life have certain limitations and repercussions for our human species, as well as for other life forms on Earth. However, most people in the transformative movement realize the importance of internet and computer technology in instantaneously linking and organizing people around the world, while also providing accurate and transparent information.

Even though technology cannot fix all problems, perhaps it can help us deal with some of the urgent issues. But instead of using technology as the latest consumer fad, we need the wisdom to direct the technology to positive ends. As we have found in world history, one thing that humans are good at is making tools. 28Sometimes the repercussions of our tool-making creations are not immediately apparent; the atomic and nuclear bombs come to mind as inventions that have had few, if any, redeeming qualities. But many inventions have been beneficial—the internet has certainly benefited me. Many new innovations are underway to help “clean up” the environment, bring more energy efficiency to our way of life, and treat medical issues. Perhaps technology will provide the tools we need to save ourselves—but we will need to know how to use it in ways that are beneficial rather than harmful.


Questions to Consider

  1. What economic changes (if any) do you think should be promoted by those holding a transformative worldview?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

i Wendell Berry, “Decolonizing Rural America,” Audubon 95, no. 2 (March-April 1993): 105.

ii Gar Alperovitz, “America Beyond Capitalism,” Dollars & Sense.

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