A Field Guide to Life – Impact of Worldview

by Brad on September 18, 2012


The Impact of Worldview

If you were to depict the “you” described up until now, you might see yourself inside an invisible frame made up of your unconscious beliefs. As if the impact of that weren’t enough, that whole frame lives inside another invisible frame called society’s worldview. Here’s how that one works. 

By virtue of living in a society, we adopt that society’s values. We unknowingly become acculturated into its worldview. You might envision worldview as a “filter” that continually tells you what to think and do, based on assumptions and beliefs that belong to someone else. An example is our prevailing view that science can save us from all our wrongs; as a result, we tend to take personal responsibility less seriously … all unconsciously. But there was a time before science started telling us this was so. What happened?

The world we see today is very different from the world seen by the native cultures that came before us. Without a lesson in either anthropology or sociology, here’s a brief overview of factors that have shaped western worldview over the millennia. It’s not intended as a definitive treatise, but as a conversation to provoke thought about how invisible forces impact our lives. By making the unconscious conscious, you create potential for dramatic change. 

Our planet’s original cultures lived in reverent and reciprocal relationship with nature. They learned to listen to their world; in return, it taught them all they needed to know. Nature was animate; people, animals, trees and rocks had conversations. Everything was connected; life was defined by its unity. Nature was part of them; perhaps more importantly, they were part of nature. This connectedness offered congruence between a way of life and a system of faith. Although their science predated modern knowing, they “knew without knowing,” deeply and intuitively. They knew life was made of energy, matter, consciousness, spirit – ideas we are now “discovering” as if for the first time. We experience little of this connectedness today. At the level of worldview, what’s going on here? 

It’s part of being human to strive for something better. Over the course of history, some of the gains we’ve experienced include the development of agriculture, the advent of written language, advances in science and technology. Few of us would say that the cell phones or medical technology have made our lives measurably worse. But in fact, each gain so realized also carried with it a price, a smaller, yet tangible, loss that asked us to give up a piece of that “reciprocal and reverent” self of ages past. The cumulative effect of these losses, has, in my mind, brought us to the point of despair (although we often deny even that). There’s no judgment of right/wrong here, but rather an acknowledgment of how cultural change transforms worldview. 

Here’s a summary of many of the changes that have occurred over the course of our history, along with a statement of the potential loss we’ve incurred by virtue of accepting the gain. See if you can trace the impact to your own life:

  • Language: written language creates distance between life and the felt experience of life. We know the word bear, for example, but our relationship is more with the word than with what it means to be a bear.
  • Agriculture: farming gave early people their first taste of control over the natural world. With control came the risk having something to lose, and hence something to fear. In a way, we created a hostile world.
  • Religion: modern religions tend to see God, soul and spirit as separate from the self, placing them “out there” somewhere, where they can be worshipped. But this dismembers the self, so we longer feel whole.
  • Science: science has come to explain aspects of our world that formerly “belonged” to religion. We now tend to worship science. But science is not the world; it’s a process that helps us understand the world. It’s also a process that relies on objectivity, thereby denying human experience.
  • Technology: despite improvements technology offers, we’ve come to see cell phones, Facebook, internet and texting as examples of being alive instead of examples of losing connection with the human experience.
  • Government: government was intended to do for the people what people couldn’t do for themselves. We’ve been led far astray from that servant-oriented design, government now serving mainly its own selfishness.
  • Consumerism: we’ve come to expect easy access to anything we want, yet we experience less value in products, and more in the “having” or the “wanting” of them, leaving us perpetually unhappy with “not enough.”
  • Institutions: institutions often make “promises for a better life,” yet rob us of that life through their greed, resource exploitation, and selfishness. If they actually “won” those battles, we’d not even survive as a species.

The point here is not to denigrate society’s advances, nor to paint a gloomy picture of any of them, but to help you become aware of how these invisibles have a clear and visible impact in our lives. You cannot single-handedly alter a worldview; yet you can come to see and it more consciously. In so doing, you become free to make different choices for how you live your own life, choices that are life-enhancing rather than life-constraining.


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