Evolving Worldviews

Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 2016

I just finished reading “Everything is Workable – a Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution,” by Diane Musho Hamilton (published by Shambhala). I bought this book because I wanted to expand my thinking about the source of conflict (i.e., different worldviews) and how to respond in a helpful way. “Everything is Workable” complements what I have learned previously from Marshall Rosenberg (Non-Violent Communication or NVC), Judy Ringer (“Unlikely Teachers – Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict”), and Hugh O’Doherty (who uses wisdom from the Ladder of Inference to help us have Courageous Conversations). Each chapter concludes with suggested practices to further develop one’s own insights. I found Hamilton’s writing style to be friendly, positive, and encouraging. She frequently references the work and thinking of Ken Wilbur, which might be what it takes to get me back to studying Wilbur.

Chapter 18, “Evolving Worldviews,” was a particularly vivid chapter for me. Hamilton uses the ancient (1971 – 1979) television show “All in the Family” to explain how the different worldviews of Archie and Meathead led to conflict on the popular show. This dynamic persists in the public sphere today, only “without the irony or humor.” I need only think about my own collection of relatives, some of whom perhaps are dedicated (if  not addicted – my worldview!) to Fox News, while others of us feed on NPR. What persists, and has been consistent, is the structure underlying the conflict. “The conflicts between the characters (e.g., me and my sister-in-law) are due to differences in worldviews.”

Further, she says, “In any conflict, we need to be aware of the worldviews at play, because while many things can be negotiated, worldviews cannot” (italics mine). This strikes me as a profound realization. I equate “worldview” with “mental model,” and often say, in teaching or coaching, that it’s important for us to expose our mental models, explore their origin and impact, and possibly try to shift or at least override them. This is, I believe, the inner work of leadership. I can shift my worldview, but no one else can negotiate with me to cause that shift. I must have a new experience that makes space for that worldview to shift, to evolve.  Hamilton writes, “A worldview is more than an opinion; it is an entire gestalt of opinions that frames meaning. It is impossible to persuade another person to adopt a new worldview, certainly not in the course of a single argument or negotiation.”

I look forward to sharing this insight and others when I next teach in the graduate leadership program at St. Mary’s College of California.