What’s Your Worldview?
If we truly desire to learn how to stand in another’s shoes to gain deeper understanding and communication, we must first become aware of our own worldview. In her book, SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, Cindy Wigglesworth says that a worldview is “made up of what we believe is ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ how we think things ‘should be,’ and what we think is true and false.” A worldview is literally “the way I see the world.” According to Wigglesworth, individuals’ and communities’ worldviews are influenced by geography, religion, age, culture, national citizenship, education level, life experiences, and our “biological realities” such as individual brain chemistry. I would add gender and race to that list, and how those aspects of identity are valued within the culture in which a person grew up and is currently living in.
What Culture did You Grow Up In?
A simple question such as “what culture did you grow up in?” requires considerable self-reflection. You have grown up in multiple cultures, including the norms and rules within your family, the schools you attended, the countries you have lived in. In addition, your ethnic, racial, and religious identities all contribute to “the culture” you grew up in. Each of these experiences and viewpoints influence the way you see the world.
Next, consider the time period in history as a context of your worldview. How have recent events such as the Paris terrorist bombings or 9/11 in the U.S. affected the way you view the world? How have shifts in civil liberties, politics, and technology affected the way you view the world? Imagine a world in which there are no smart phones, or even cell phones. That is the world in which your grandparents came of age. Now add another layer to this complex set of contexts: your personal life experiences. Maybe you had a happy childhood and nothing traumatic happened to you in your youth. Bless you! Or, like most people, you have had some tragedies, accidents, and injuries along with successes that have shaped the person you are today. Each of these contribute to the lens through which we see life.
Learning to See Through Another’s Eyes
How can we learn to see through another’s eyes? Once we come to understand the lenses we use to view the world, we can take the time to imagine another person’s context. Choose someone with whom you work regularly, or a close friend. Consider all of the cultural, time, and geographic contexts that may apply to this person. Imagine what feelings and thoughts you might have if you had had the same experiences. If you know anything about this person’s life experiences or current life and work situations, add that information to your imagination process.
Next, get up the courage to have an inquiry conversation with your colleague or friend; ask questions to validate your imaginings. It’s best to do this informally, bit by bit over time, so your colleague or friend does not feel they are being “interviewed.” Most people respond well when asked questions like, “what was it like growing up in [fill in the blank]?” Really pay attention to their answers with interest and ask them to “tell me more” until you feel you understand them. Train yourself to do this as an ongoing process of getting to know the people in your team and organization and you will develop rapport and trust along with understanding other people’s worldviews.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Don’t read through the above ideas once and “think about the questions.” Take it to a deeper level of understanding through practice.
Commit to yourself to embark upon a daily journal writing practice. It need not take more than 10 minutes a day. Begin with examining your own worldview. Here are some questions to explore as a starting point – pick one each day:
- What were the rules and norms of my family? How has this affected my worldview?
- What country or countries did I grow up in? How has this affected my worldview?
- What religion did my family practice during my childhood? What religions have I learned about and/or practiced during my life? How has this affected my worldview?
- What is/has been my gender identity? How was/is my gender identity perceived in the cultures of my family, country, religion, etc.? How has this affected my worldview?
If you have other questions to add to this list, I encourage you to add them as comments to this blog post so we can all benefit.
- Choose someone with whom you work regularly, or a close friend. Consider all of the cultural, time, and geographic contexts that may apply to this person. Imagine what feelings and thoughts you might have if you had had the same experiences. If you know anything about this person’s life experiences or current life and work situations, add that information to your imagination process. Use some of the questions above to help your imagination process. Write down how you imagine their worldview to be.
- Spend time in dialog with this person to understand their worldview. Use phrases like “tell me more” to encourage storytelling and deeper conversation. This should be an informal process and can take place over 1 or more conversations. Be willing to reveal your own personal experience and reflections of your worldview. The conversation will be very rich if you each share personal worldviews. Ask questions such as:
- What was it like growing up in [fill in the blank]?
- Where did you go to school? What did you enjoy about it? What did you not like about it? How did it affect the way you see the world?
- How did [fill in the blank – local or world event] affect you?
- (Only if you know them really well and have established trust): How did your gender/ race/ ethnic identity/ religious identity affect your life experiences? How did those experiences affect the way you see the world?
- Compare your imagined answers with the actual answers you heard during your conversations with this person.
- Repeat with another friend or colleague