Worldview

A well-formed worldview is our starting point because the way we see the world determines everything we experience in life. According to the Oxford Dictionary the definition of worldview is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. This definition seems pretty short and leaves me wanting more—a lot more. My definition would be expanded to include the following: a worldview is something that every human being has whether consciously or unconsciously. It is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual. It is the one defining intellectual activity that underpins each person’s life and informs what a person thinks and feels about everything. If you think about it, worldview is the single most important thing in the intellectual life of every human being.

This is strikingly evident when we look at history and those who shaped it. Behind every influential person in history was the driving force of a worldview that started each chain of events that shaped history as we know it. It was a specific worldview that brought Socrates to drink poison and what inspired Sir Thomas More to stand up to the king and loose his head for it. It drove the Vandals to sack Rome, the Ottomans to conquer Constantinople, the English to subjugate the Irish and bizarrely tried to justify the American slave trade. Worldview inspired human sacrifice among the Aztecs, the building of the Egyptian pyramids, and fueled the race to the moon. It’s what drove kings, explorers and entrepreneurs to risk their lives to explorer the world, and was the single most important cause of the Declaration of Independence. It was what created education as an institution, the university system, the industrial revolution, the railroads, and the stock market. Difference in worldview caused the gore of the holocausts of the 20th century, the terrorism of the 21st century. Worldview drove scientists to discover the power in the atom and was the rational for dropping the atomic bomb on 140,000 million people. It is the cause of all wars, art, music and is the reason for writing books. It gave Jackie Robinson courage to play baseball and it drove Martin Luther King to march to his own demise. It inspired the invention of the printing press, vaccines, the light bulb and the hospital, and lead to the discovery of gravity, the genome and DNA. As you can see worldview is not only how we view the world it is how we shape it.

You too may end up changing the world, or at the very least you will most certainly have a lasting impact on those around you, and this will be the result of your worldview. For the sake of this book, and as it pertains to my interest in your wellbeing, I am most interested in the worldview that provides one with purpose, love, contentment, and happiness, for this is what I desire for you. Unfortunately this is no easy task. The journey to a fully realized worldview that offers purpose and contentment can be harrowing and fraught with treachery. This journey can be likened unto Odysseus’ long journey home. In Homer’s epic Odysseus (which translates as: one who is hated) navigated tempestuous seas, made seemingly impossible decisions, battled monsters, narrowly avoided the wrath of the gods, and fought off many temptations, all the while keeping a singular focus with his eyes set on the purpose and goal at hand. Near the end of his journey, when he washed up on a foreign shore, it seemed like it was all over. He was alone and had no idea where he was—no point of reference. With thousands of ideas, opinions, belief systems and distractions vying for our devotion, we can easily wash up on the shore of hopelessness and give up. However, Odysseus never wavered or faltered in his resolve, and this resolve proved to be a source of indestructible strength. In the end he made it home, vanquished his enemies through archery, got the girl and lived happily ever after.

Building an effective worldview in this age is no easy task. However, historically it was super easy. This was due to the fact a person’s worldview was something usually predetermined by the community with which they belonged. It was a gradual process of indoctrination though cultural traditions, moral teachings, and social expectation—a process that was totally automated. This made the very notion of building your own worldview an impossibility or unnecessary. In our day and age we have access to all information, all ideas, all traditions, and all points of view. There is so much information and data that sorting though it all seems impossible. To add to the confusion, we are taught that all information and all points of view are of equal importance, equal relevance and are equally true. This relativism coupled with information overload is what makes building a worldview in the contemporary age tantamount to Homer’s Odyssey.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly building our own worldview and building the worldviews of those around us. Humans have influence on each other. This is intrinsic to daily human life and cognition. Some would like to think that they are neutral with respect to influencing those around them. This is like saying speech doesn’t originate from thought. I’ve even heard parents say they are raising their children in a “neutral” home. Not only is this impossible, but if it were possible, this approach could cause great harm. How then is one to come of age, leave the safety of the home and navigate the seas of information and ideas without getting sucked into a Charybdis of dangerous ideas or avoid being devoured by a Scylla of poor judgment, or not get turned into a pig by the effects of lust.

Since we find ourselves utilizing analogy from the great epic of classical literature, Homer’s Odyssey, let us look at worldview from classical[1] point of view. To the ancient philosophers and teachers, building a worldview took place in the context of education and the acquisition of knowledge. According to Socrates and Plato, the aim of education is to attain knowledge. To them the attainment of knowledge was necessary both for the interest of the individual and of society. Aristotle, a student of Plato, had a different view. To him the aim of education was not only the attainment of knowledge but also the attainment of happiness or goodness in life. He believed that virtue lies in the attainment of happiness or goodness. He has divided ‘goodness’ into two categories: goodness of intellect and goodness of character. The former can be produced and increased by teaching and is the product of training and experience. The latter is the result of habit, and it can be attained by the formation of good habits for the control of passions and appetites.

Plato, in his most influential work titled Republic espoused that formation of the early childhood period should be the responsibility of the parents. This is most natural. Before you were born I knew full well that I would play an instrumental part in the formation of your worldview. Although I raised you with a very specific worldview, I tried to be as balanced as possible and to share with you many ideas and view points, so as to offer you a well-rounded understanding of the world. I tried to keep in mind Plato’s balanced approach. He said that, “It should be presented to the mind in childhood, but not with any compulsion; for a freeman should be a freeman too in the acquisition of knowledge.”[2] I shall try to present what I know without compulsion. Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in.

 

[1] By classical I mean relating to ancient Greek or Latin literature, art, or culture

[2] Plato, Republic