Worldviews & Mindsets
Worldviews are precast ideas about reality. They're deep-seated presuppositions about the ways in which the world works that people, both individually and collectively, hold as foregone conclusions, existential presupposition, and unquestionable truths. Worldviews are cognitive platforms; without them we couldn’t survive.
Most of us are not aware of our own worldviews. We're blind to our causal hypotheses, especially the presuppositions we use to plan our futures and direct our actions. Beyond this, we're generally unaware of the fact that most of what we see, hear, think, or feel, essentially whatever we do day to day, are all thoughts, feelings and actions that are shaped by our personal worldviews. Bottom line, the proposition to hold to is this: The beliefs, prejudices, and modes of thinking that you learned in your mother's arms, on her lap, and by her side are what make up the worldview that’s determining what you're doing today.
Typically, worldviews are a really esoteric subject. They're things that are only of interest to philosophers and sociologists: Academicians like Richard Tarnas (The Passions of the Western Mind), Peter Berger (The Social Canopy), or Arthur Koestler (The Sleepwalkers), who have an abiding interest in discovering why ordinary people believe what they believe. Until recently, no one, at least no one that I've found, has been particularly interested in making this subject of worldviews practical.
Annick de Witt seems to be the exception to this rule. She's an author, educator, consultant, and worldview-researcher who knows a lot about the purpose and function of worldviews. But she's also someone who's committed to offering us tools that can help us better understand our own personal worldviews and, as well, something about the four distinct worldviews that, all across the globe, are alive today in people's minds, brains, and bodies.
Dr. de Witt's website is worth visiting. On it, Annick offers a useful sample of the research she's doing, a description of the developmental workshops she offers, and direct access to the worldview assessment that she's developed. The article posted below is a good introduction to her work; it describes what, at this point in time, seem to be the 21st Century's four active worldviews. You can find Dr. de Witt's website here.
21st Century Worldviews
Before you read the descriptions of our current 21st Century worldviews, it's good to realize that these overviews are neither exhaustive nor definitive. Each of these worldviews is dynamic, and any description is necessarily based in a sweeping generalization of the complexities of reality.
These worldviews can best be seen as archetypes or ideal-types: models and maps that help us understand and examine the real world. However, they are not the real world! Most people don’t neatly fit into the “box” of one worldview. As the saying goes, “the map is not the territory.” Moreover, while these worldviews have been observed in Western societies, at this point we do not know to what extent they are found in non-Western societies.
Most importantly, these worldview-descriptions can help us to think about how we view life, the world, nature, our fellow human beings, and ourselves. It can also help us to explore why we think that way, and to what extent that way of thinking is optimally serving us. This can teach us some profound lessons about our attitudes towards life.
It’s like becoming aware of the sunglasses we have been wearing, without knowing we were wearing them! We start to see how they filter and color our very experience of life, like sunglasses filter out the UV light and add color, subtly (or not so subtly) altering what we see and experience. Moreover, we can use the knowledge about other worldviews to have understanding for people who think differently. We start to see that all worldviews have qualities and values that are worthwhile. From this place of appreciation and compassion, we are likely to have more productive communication and cooperation with others.
The Traditional Worldview
People with traditional worldviews tend to find their answers to ‘the great questions of life’ in longstanding traditions and conventions, often centered on their religious faith. Not surprisingly then, they tend to trust religious authorities ~ such as scriptures, doctrines, and (religious) leaders ~ and take their word as truth.
Generally speaking, the focus is on the community and the family, rather than on the individual. Taking care of each other tends to be valued higher than going out on your own and making it for yourself: values like solidarity, service to others, humility, and self-sacrifice are central. The social order in the form of social roles and rules tends to be accepted rather than questioned or rebelled against, thus emphasizing obedience and conformity. Also, values like honesty, decency, dedication, sobriety, and discipline are considered very important.
There is generally a belief in (a biblical notion of) Creation, seeing the world as created by a higher, divine force, which is transcendent to its creation. The world is thus created by God, but also separate from God. Similarly, humanity is seen as fundamentally different from nature. The relationship with nature is frequently understood in terms of ‘dominion’ or ‘stewardship’: nature is something that we as humans can use for our own purposes, but also have to take care of.
The Modern Worldview
People with modern worldviews tend to emphasize rationality, science, logic, and critical thinking, and they often question imposed views from (religious) traditions and the past. To do something “because we have always done it” is not an argument for moderns. Science is often seen as the ultimate ~ and sometimes even exclusive ~ source of reliable knowledge: it is the way to find out what is real and true.
The vision of reality tends to be (philosophically) materialistic: there is nothing beyond what we can observe with the senses and their extensions (e.g., microscopes). Life is a product of random, unconscious evolutionary processes, and the existence of a higher power, divine reality, or intangible dimension is frequently rejected. This creates a separation between humans as conscious subjects in a world of unconscious objects, as well as between mind and body.
This separation tends to lead to immense scientific, technological, social, and economic progress. Simultaneously, it facilitates the exploitation of nature. As nature is no longer seen as something with spirit or intelligence, or as a larger order we need to adapt to, it becomes an object we use for our own purposes: a tree is timber, and man is the measure of all things. In response to environmental and societal challenges, science and technology are generally seen as the solutions.
The focus is on the individual rather than on the community: people have pride in making it on their own, and being independent and ‘self-made’. Moderns tend to be driven to perform and achieve professionally, and the joy in life is predominantly found in material pleasures. Individualistic and hedonistic values ~ such as autonomy, freedom, success, performance, social recognition, material comfort, and fun ~ are usually dominant.
The Postmodern Worldview
People with postmodern worldviews tend to acknowledge and value multiple perspectives on reality. They are aware that people see life very differently, and that all these different perspectives are valuable. In this view, truth is thus relative, contextual, and subjective (e.g., informed by moral, emotional, and artistic dimensions), rather than being objective as modern science claims.
The view of reality is diverse and undefined, characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. The postmodern’s capacity to see and validate multiple perspectives can lead to an intense relativism, in which reality or truth itself is contested: because we all have a different perspective on reality, reality in itself does not exist. Frequently, these people either adhere to a liberal (interpretation of their) religion or spirituality, or display an agnostic attitude, saying that “we don’t know” whether there is a divine being, force, or reality.
As the name reveals, postmodern worldviews tend to define themselves in opposition to modernity, frequently resulting in a critical attitude towards the modern model of society (e.g., emphasis on material progress, modern science and technology, capitalism). According to this perspective, quality of life cannot be found in merely material comfort and pleasures. Instead, postmodernists often emphasize “post-material” values, like creativity, uniqueness, authenticity, imagination, feeling, and intuition.
Quality of life is also fought for in public life. This is reflected in the rise of social movements since particularly the 1960’s, which promote, among others, peace, feminism, gay rights, and the environment. There is a strong emphasis on the unique, expressive individual. Yet many of the prime concerns of postmodernists are of a social nature: The well-being of the community is important, and this community includes “other” people, different from one’s own religion, race, class, or group. Diversity, heterogeneity, pluralism, and multiculturalism are celebrated.
The Integrative Worldview
People with integrative worldviews generally try to bring together and synthesize elements or domains that in other worldviews are viewed as mutually exclusive, such as science and spirituality, rationality and imagination, economy and ecology, humanity and nature ~ domains that in the West have been in conflict for centuries. In this worldview, such opposing perspectives or domains are understood “on a deeper level” to be part of a greater whole or synthesis.
The view of reality is of a great interconnected whole, which is both spiritual and physical ~ a larger consciousness or divine reality uniting all the separate elements of our experience. The divine is both immanent and transcendent: God is in the world, and the world is in God. The process of (biological) evolution is frequently understood as driven by a creative spirit or divine force.
Such a holistic perspective results in “both-and” rather than “either-or” thinking, which can lead to great social, cultural, economic, and technological innovations. It may also lead to a profound sense of connection with nature, and an understanding of earthly life as imbued with consciousness or “spirit.” Nature tends to be seen as having intrinsic value and spiritual significance.
The individual is prominent in this worldview, and there often is a great focus on the development or evolution of one’s “higher self” or full human potential (e.g., through spiritual or other practices). Universal, existential concerns ~ such as life and death, self-actualization, global awareness, and serving society, humanity, or even “life” at large ~ are often of central importance.