Our worldview is made up of what we expect, what we believe and what we take as given. How our worldview compares and contrasts with other worldviews affects our success in politics. Think of our worldview as a lens or set of lenses through which we view the world. Whether concave, convex, telescopic or microscopic, they limit and modify our view of the real world giving us our worldview. These lenses are essential to help us make sense of the mass of information that otherwise would swamp our mind.
In positive politics we try to adjust our lenses enough to grasp others' worldviews, prosper from their insights, and frame change in a manner that appeals to enough people to attract resources and make something happen.
Two Influential Lenses
Two lenses are most important in positive politics. One lens is our belief system. Through this lens we perceive what is good or bad, right or wrong. Through another lens we anticipate what is coming by linking images through the past, present, and future. The combination of belief and time lenses one uses to focus on reality make up most of one’s worldview.
Although our worldview may be unique, we can identify and classify worldviews in general and by studying alternative lenses, we can attempt to see what others see. Because we cannot look directly through another's lens the way we do our own, we never fully or accurately see perceive their reality. To the extent that we attempt to see the world through other persons’ lens, however, we can better anticipate others’ actions, communicate with them more meaningfully, and affect what they do. Affecting what others do is the essence of politics. Being open to these alternative worldviews is an essential part of positive politics.
The Belief Lens sees harmony or contention
The belief lens instructs us which components of reality are good and which are bad, starting with human nature. The aphorism, “viewing the world through rose colored glasses.” describes a belief lens that makes the world seem full of harmony. An alternative belief set sees the world as rife with contention. We call the “rose colored glasses” lens harmonist and the heavily-tinted gray lens contentionist.
If one sees the world as a place of contention, and if one views human beings as essentially selfish, then one is likely to see the role of church, society, and government as primarily that of protector. Without the police and national security forces and other civilized institutions, the contentionist fears that world order will collapse; war and anarchy stand ready to erupt out at any time. If “the law of the jungle” governs, force is necessary to keep evil at bay. The ability to coerce is the essence of power and it should serve “our vital interests,” which usually means preserving the institutions that preserve order. All politics is controversy and power other than the ability to coerce and willingness to do so are not worth mentioning. The contentionist distrusts other persons until they prove trustworthy. Trust means one can rely on the other’s help in thwarting a greater foe than either could defeat alone. Such cooperation as takes place is in this larger context of meeting together a mutual threat; allies combine in pursuit of “vital interests.” Only threat makes cooperation possible and an outside threat do double duty by tending to reduce inside threats.
If on the other hand, one sees the world as a refuge, as a land of hope and opportunity for cooperation, one peers through a harmonist lens. Harmonists believe that persons are innately good and seek to be ethical; therefore, the role of the institutions of civilization -- the church, society, and government -- is to serve the pursuit of mutual interests, often called “our deepest values.” The primary function of institutions, to the harmonist, is to facilitate group action toward whatever goals the group adopts. For the harmonist, coercion may be necessary, but only in specific situations, to assure justice or as a last resort to manage individuals who are mentally deranged. The harmonist trusts other people until they prove untrustworthy. Being trustworthy means being predisposed to cooperating, to building relationships and valuing and “following the rules,” especially rules governing procedure. Procedures sustain the institutions that make possible the magnifying of individual effort. While one individual may be able to conceive and pursue a change project – a particular creative act, involving along the way those whose cooperation in the planned change will increase the likelihood that they will implement that change. For the harmonist to participate the harmonist needs to see that the outcome will be a more “just” one than is the present.
The Direction of History
Another lens provides us images over time, leading us to anticipate the future. As we said in the introduction, a worldview contains two major parts: beliefs and images. The images help us make sense of time. Image Lenses Shape events over time. As Alexander McCall Smith expressed in his novel, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" Everything, thought Mma Ramotswe, has been something before. Here I am, the only lady private detective in the whole of Botswana, sitting in front of my detective agency. But only a few years ago there was no detective agency, and before that, before there were even any buildings here, there were just the acacia trees, and the riverbed in the distance, and the Kalahari over there, so close…. But look at it now: a detective agency, right here in Gaborone, with me, the fat lady detective, sitting outside and thinking these thoughts about how what is one thing today becomes quite another thing tomorrow."
Our views of time develop in us as children and the distribution of the views differ across cultures. These alternative meanings of history and of events over time limit what one can see, make sense of, even remember. For each of us history has a special configuration of felt if not expressed shape, weight, and complexity. One’s sense of time, added to one’s belief preference – what we see and how we feel about it—tends to predetermine one’s assessment of the worth of change—before, during, and after a it happens.
Each of us is predisposed to a number of attitudes about time, but for our discussion we aggregate these potential views into three patterns: linear, cyclical, or discrete. Linear History had a fixed beginning and unfolds purposively toward a human finality. Cyclical Either history repeats itself or each major civilization experiences the same pattern of birth, life, and death. Discrete History is just “one damn thing after another”: largely unrelated, discrete events that bear no necessary relation to one another
The first version—or vision—depicts history as linear, as having a fixed beginning and progressing toward a human finality. This view, the most common in western civilization, stands visible in the Judeo-Christian and Marxist traditions that led Jefferson, V. I. Lenin and others to see human agents as capable of perfecting society. Biblical teaching holds that God created the earth and remains involved with humankind and that the experiment will one day end. Those who see time as linear tend to pursue “progress” and express concern about which direction their world is moving. They are goal-oriented and want to build something that lasts, like pyramids to legitimize authority, cathedrals whose spires reach heavenward, or monuments to impress men to want to war, or the ultimate management system.
In a project environment, a linear view urges its holders toward perfectionism and permanent solutions, so that one can safely build the next project on the previous one. Milestones in construction, then, are not ends in themselves but are evidence that the direction is right, that all effort adds to the larger human social edifice. Someone with a linear view of time may want to make big changes all at once, to get a jump on history, but will also want to “get it right, once and for all”; the rest of the future depends on it.
A second major view of history, the most common in India, parts of East Asia, and much of the Mediterranean, is the cyclical notion that history either repeats itself or that each major civilization experiences a similar pattern of birth, life, and death. This history is like the turning of a great wheel. Souls are born, die, and then are reborn. Challenges arise; people respond; sometimes the response works, but eventually it fails. The future is problematic so be cautious about taking the next step; the only permanence is in regeneration or renewal. At Ise, on the Japanese island of Honshu, Shinto believers have ceremoniously rebuilt their shrine in the same pattern every twenty years since 690 A.D. The cyclical view brings nature inside – inside a person who, outdoors, internalizes and seeks to live with nature, or who, indoors, may also internalize but brings nature along as a Japanese garden or fresh flowers. This view of time needs no spire or monument to impress man or the gods. Yin and yang entwine together. Humans need only a roof and a horizontal structure to build, to contain, relationships the way everything in nature connects.
In a work environment, the cyclical view expresses itself in a philosophical and comfortable with an incremental approach toward change. Obviously if life repeats itself, we will soon get another chance to redo, rebuild, or improve. The process may be more important than the product. Someone holding this outlook may be adept at meeting deadlines, but less subject to stress. Building and preserving relationships may trump quality standards.
A third view of history may seem less culturally based than the first two. That is because it finds adherents in many cultures and because it is especially prevalent in the United States; one has difficulty seeing what is so common that it seems “natural.” This view sees history as just “one damn thing after another”: largely unrelated, discrete bits, events that bear no necessary or even evidentiary relation to one another. Thus one can restart the clock any time. New beginnings are always possible. Life is just one pick-up ball game after another: we win some, lose others, but each game is a brand new event. This view obviously contrasts heavily to the linear one and sometimes is a psychological escape from or a reaction to linear views, especially when competing linear views create excessive “noise” in the workplace.
When you have trouble "getting through" to someone or a group with whom you are trying to communicate, take some time to analyze their worldview and how it might align or diverge from your own. Consider how someone else might anticipate a change you wish to effect; how they might consider your approach to security.