Have you ever listened to an impossible television debate? It can almost seem as if an elephant were trying to convince an alligator. A man and woman can sometimes get locked into a “Mars against Venus” impasse! Congress and Parliaments sometimes find themselves in gridlock when, with basic assumptions that forbid appreciation of the other side, all hope for compromise fades.
What is your most treasured belief? Has that belief ever been challenged by some who can’t understand “where you’re coming from?”
The social consequences of conflicting worldviews are such that discussing what we really believe tends to get shut off. In social gatherings we rely on superficial reflections on the weather, current media, the latest news on which all will agree, or our latest experiences, and especially on humor; we are so constricted to avoid controversial hostilities.
So difficult is the sharing of deepest beliefs that many have not even considered how belief about the meaning of life is formed. We may have taken time to describe our core values, but still have no clue as to why those values, rather than others, have fastened themselves to our identity.
What do we mean by a worldview? Encarta World English Dictionary defines world-view as “a comprehensive interpretation or image of the universe and humanity.” TheFreeDictionary.com by Farlex offers two definitions: “(1) The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. (and) (2) A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.” accessed 24Aug2013.
Wikipedia goes deeper:
A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy: fundamental, existential and normative postulates; or themes, values emotions and ethics. accessed 24Aug2013
The Free Dictionary above states that both its definitions are covered by the term weltanschauung. The word comes from the German Welt, world, together with Anschauung, view. Weltanschauung conveys the idea of a particular way of viewing the world, a philosophy of life, a comprehensive and fundamental belief about life and the world. German philosophers Kant and Hegel made this a fundamental philosophical idea and term—well used ever since.
Where do worldviews come from and how are they constructed? It seems that being human, having self-consciousness beyond that of animals, forces humans to ask why and how; why are we here and how are we to live. We are bombarded by stimuli and data. How are we to integrate this material and make sense of the varied data our experience absorbs?
Before we can begin to answer such basic questions, there is a need for some starting point, a basic assumption or presupposition about reality; the ability of our senses to perceive reality and the facility of our mind to process our sensations. From such basic assumptions, then axioms and guiding principles, core values, basic beliefs, and varied opinions emerge.
The physical sciences rely on empirical study of the material world; it’s basic assumption is that there is a real, material world and that our senses can reliably measure its characteristics. The social sciences have similar assumptions but admit that their observations of human complexity yield only soft scientific conclusions. Philosophy looks at all this, and the whole world of art and aesthetics to consider the underlying aspects of human thought, its fundamental assumptions and axioms, and the validity of its conclusions.
Our culture, our ethnicity, our family and our religious beliefs, all affect the worldview of each of us. Adolescence and young adulthood is the time when generally we reassess, discard and add elements to the understanding and principles of our world and life views.
Admittedly, there will be great differences in the level and clarity with which human beings develop their personal views of life and the world. Some, perhaps striving with difficult issues of survival have time only to exist. Still, the ethnographic research of an anthropologist, or the compassionate relationship of an aid worker, will recognize this person strives for some measure of dignity based on a particular, though perhaps vague, view of life and the world.
Murray Moerman contributes an interesting image of our life as a tree. The strong roots of the tree in this image represent our Worldview, our understanding of reality. The hefty trunk illustrates our Basic Beliefs that flow from that foundational understanding. The branches speak to our Guiding Principles, and finally the leaves and fruit represent our personal and corporate Behavior. Such an image may or may not be helpful; you may think of a better symbol or metaphor.
The basic principles of philosophy and logic seem essential in helping us understand the way we have come to our conclusions, how others have come to contrary conclusions, and how we might respect and appreciate differing points of view. Understanding my own world and life view, and then different perspectives of others may help substantial conversations lead to surprising agreement, or agreement to disagree—and to reaching helpful compromise.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What brings you to this article? What is of interest to you here?
How clearly are you aware of your own worldview? Would you agree that all people have their own world and life views—at least implicitly?
Do you agree that having a clearer sense of our own world and life view, and an interest and appreciation for that of others, could make for a more peaceful and productive world?
How, in your opinion, do worldviews relate to matters of faith and religion? How might a clearer communication about differing faiths make the world a bit more peaceful these days?
What has most impressed you about this article, or how has this article disappointed you? What criticisms, suggestions or questions do you have regarding this topic?
“Know thyself,” “take heed to yourself” are wise admonitions from Greek and Biblical wisdom.
Malcolm X once shouted: “A man without a knowledge of his past is like a tree without roots!” At other times he implied that a person without knowledge of him- or herself is like a tree without roots. Even street wisdom implies we ought to know “where we are coming from.”
Our identities are a most precious reality. The uniqueness and richness of our identities lie in our different looks, capabilities, and our values that come from our world and life view.