The definition of worldview, “a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group,” can be hard to identify. Your worldview is so familiar that you usually forget it is just a construct, and not the truth. I guess that’s the point of a worldview. It gives each of us a coherent way to understand things that take place around us. And make sense of the events in our lives.
But worldviews are more than just lenses that passively shape how we see the world. They influence how we interpret what happens. This in turn influences our perception, our decisions, our words, and our actions, so that what is reflected back to us in the outside world ends up confirming the view in our inner world. The thing is, this all happens without much conscious thought. Things are the way they are. Seldom do we wonder — or at least I will speak for myself — seldom did I wonder about this. So for much of my life. I didn’t make the link between the way my worldview shaped my world.
Worldviews shape worlds
That all changed when I began my journey with the Genuine Contact way of working. At the first training I attended in 2001 it became clear that in order to be work with it as a consultant using this approach, I couldn’t just “play” at it. If I was going to be successful, I would have to do that authentically. This meant that I had to believe, for example, that the solutions for problems existing within a (large) group were indeed to be found within the people themselves. I had to believe that simplicity was the best way to address complexity. If not, then I would be playing a game. It would cause harm to my clients, or it would backfire.
I was grateful that Birgitt Williams made transparent the five foundational beliefs upon which the Genuine Contact approach is built. This made explicit a part of the worldview from which this method grew.
It can be uncomfortable
Actually, I say I’m grateful, but in the beginning I was very uncomfortable. I was not used to people being so open about their belief system. I was challenged because, although I was deeply attracted to the way of working, I had not examined the underlying beliefs shaping my world view. So becoming involved in the Genuine Contact way of working became an invitation for me to do just that.
In the beginning, this openness and invitation to explore my world view acted as a stop gap. It kept me from diving in to the approach.
This shifted dramatically at a moment when I had no other choice than to look at my worldview.
I was going through a divorce, I had just moved to a new home and I was tired and disoriented. At the time, I was extremely busy with work, but my body decided it needed rest. I got a serious case of bronchitis. I spent three weeks on the couch in my empty apartment, unable to work. Mercifully, this was before the time of virtual meetings, so I had a lot of time to myself.
At that time, I was working as a psychodynamic organizational consultant. From the look of things, I was successful, but I realized I wasn’t happy in my life or work. I often felt uncomfortable with the work that I did, not sure if I was making an impact, and more importantly not liking myself very much as I did it. I noticed myself feeling cynical about life and about people in general. Furthermore, I noticed myself judging others, becoming pessimistic, and basically not happy in my own company. If I hadn’t been ill, I may not have noticed this to the same degree. But now I that I had this time with myself, I didn’t like what I was finding.
Worldviews can be unhelpful
It was through this that I began to wonder. “How had I become so cynical?” “How had I become so pessimistic about the world?” I didn’t recognize these as qualities that were natural to me, so what had shifted?
My conclusion was that somewhere over the course of the years, as a result of my professional stance and personal circumstances, I had adopted a series of beliefs, perspectives, and attitudes that could be boiled down to: “people are incapable of being healthy, they are teetering on the edge of falling into chaos all the time. Every time human nature is allowed to be flow openly, there will be destruction and violence.” This was shaping my worldview and all the actions I was taking which were only strengthening my beliefs.
Aligning worldviews and beliefs
But as I sat on my couch for days and days, I realized that although I was living according to this worldview, it actually wasn’t close to what I believed about the world. When I looked at what had been the most important beliefs I held from my early life, it was not a distrust and dislike of humanity. In fact it was the opposite. I had believed people were precious and capable of amazing things. Of course, not everything was always good and perfect. But the general tone inside of me was that people are capable and good.
I realized there had been a series of subtle shifts throughout both my personal and professional life, including:
- The people who I was friendly with
- The university education that I had
- The professional direction I had taken and the specifics of the field I was working in
that had influenced my worldview and I was living and experiencing the consequences of that in my life.
That revelation made me personally happy, but it also caused a deep change in how I interacted in the world. This affected my work, my friends, and the life that I had built. One consequence was that it brought me to reconsider working with Genuine Contact, which was more closely aligned in its outlook to what felt nourishing to me. This is why I was so grateful for the clear expression of the beliefs that underpin it. I was able to make a conscious choice to start working this way, and to see what it would bring.
Lessons learned about exploring worldview
There are a few lessons that I take from this and hold dear to my heart.
- The beliefs, values, attitudes, and perspectives that form worldviews are negotiated from within the cultures — organizational/professional/family as well as national — that you find yourself in.
- They are both subtle and insidious because they influence your experiences and at the same time seem to be obviously reflected in the outside world. They look unquestionably true.
- By bringing beliefs and attitudes, into your awareness, you can support yourself in making sure that the view shaping your world is indeed in alignment with what you believe.
- When you do this, if you find misalignment, you can make choices and consciously find ways to get back into balance. Working on this will change more than just your perspective, it has the capacity to transform your life and how you live it.
As I look back on this 20+ year learning journey, I see how growing my courage, ability, and capacity to look at and adjust the worldview shaping my life, has been the most profound part of what has taken place. Of course it has influenced my work with clients and the way I present myself to the outside world. Still, the most important thing is that I have learned to be consciously exploring the world with open eyes, knowing that I see through a certain series of lenses. It has given me confidence to work to make sure that what I am creating for myself is in alignment with what is life nourishing for me, my clients and the world around me.