Understanding Worldviews

Every culture has a worldview, a cultural story that explains reality and what it means to be human. These stories tell us how to live a good life, what is important in life, the nature of reality, how to understand the world, and other basic attitudes. Each era of social evolution has a basic story that most cultures subscribe to, and then each culture or subculture has its own worldview or story that is based on that larger story.

We are coming to the end of the Modern/Industrial Era and transitioning to a new era of social evolution, which I am calling the Regenerative Era, since that word is being used more and more frequently to describe the healthy, transformed culture and society we are moving into. Right now, we are between stories. The world, and most of us, are still stuck in the Modern Era story. Many of us forward thinkers are embracing the Regenerative Era story, but we don’t fully live it or feel it in our bones most of the time. This is totally understandable because we were raised and socialized into the Modern Era story, so that isn’t easy to shed, especially at an emotional or behavioral level.

This article is intended to help you explore where you are in the between-stories realm. It looks at the main worldviews of the Modern Era and the Regenerative Era. I have also included the story from the Medieval Era because many influential cultures and leaders haven’t even entered the Modern Era yet. Even though our Modern Era is dominated by its worldview, the Medieval Era worldview is till very strong in many parts of the world. The Medieval Era lasted thousands of years and gradually ended with the transition to the Modern Era around 1500-1700.

The Regenerative Era worldview is now emerging and spreading, and though there is much more needed for the Great Turning than a change in worldviews, embracing this new story is a crucial aspect of what we need to survive and create a healthy society.

These are just my projections of what the Regenerative Era worldview will be. They will not all be accurate. As you read through the article, notice where you disagree with me on this.

As you read over these different perspectives, notice which worldview you hold in each area. Also notice which aspects of the Regenerative Era worldview you hold intellectually but not yet in your heart and lived experience. You may also become aware that one part of you holds the Modern Era viewpoint about something and another part of holds the Regenerative Era view. This is normal.

Medieval Worldview: We are part of a meaningful tradition, each with our place in a given divine hierarchy.

Modern Worldview: We are separate individuals and groups competing for success in a mechanical, rational world.

Regenerative Worldview: We are autonomous yet related individuals and groups, participating in a dynamic, complex, intelligent whole.

Major Aspects of Worldviews

We can examine these worldviews in more detail by looking at four major aspects of each:

Order

Medieval: The world is a divine hierarchy.

Modern: The world is mechanical and separated into parts.

Regenerative: The world is a self-organizing, complex whole with autonomous parts inter-related in multi-level networks.

Identity/Belonging

Medieval: We are part of a community and tradition.

Modern: We are separate individuals, nations, and cultural groups.

Regenerative: We are individuals and groups who are interconnected with each other and the natural world as co-creating participants in a larger whole.

Meaning

Medieval: The world is imbued with divine or pre-ordained meaning. We must receive this information and follow it in order to live a moral life.

Modern: The world is lifeless and meaningless. Only humans provide meaning through our consciousness. Meaning comes from achievement, success, and progress.

Regenerative: Humans may be the self-reflexive lens of a meaningful, intelligent universe. We discover the meaning of our lives as part of a larger whole.

Understanding

Medieval: We understand the world through divine law as interpreted by the authorities. We aim to play our given role.

Modern: We understand the world through rational thought and scientific experimentation. We can think for ourselves, but things are so complicated that we often must rely on experts for answers. We aim for prediction and control.

Regenerative: We understand the world through combining scientific rationality integrated with systems thinking and other modes of knowing. We aim for co-creative participation.

Other Aspects of Worldviews

Then we can look in even more detail at how each worldview makes sense of various aspects of life:

Change

Medieval: Change happens (a) in cycles, or (b) through devolution from a golden age, or (c) according to divine plan.

Modern: Society is making progress because of science and rationality. When necessary, change should come from implementing the visions of leaders, engineers, and scientists.

Regenerative: Society is dynamic and evolving in complex ways. When necessary, systems self-transform through a chaotic process which can be partially understood and guided.

Power

Medieval: We each have our assigned place in the hierarchy of power.

Modern: Everyone should have an opportunity to compete for success. The winners deserve the primary share of the power.

Regenerative: We are concerned about the good of the whole as well as each part. Therefore, cooperation and self-determination are our primary values, within which competition can sometimes be useful. Everyone should have equal access to power.

Diversity

Medieval: Our tradition/religion understands the world. Other traditions and their followers are wrong or evil.

Modern: There are many traditions that are legitimate even though ours is more advanced. People have equal rights no matter what their tradition. Diversity is a problem to be handled.

Regenerative: Each tradition is appreciated in its own right. People are free to choose or create their own lifestyle and values. Diversity—biological, cultural, and political—is a strength to be embraced.

Gender

Medieval: Each gender has its place, men above women, with women’s place in the home.

Modern: Each gender has its role, but women have an expanded role and some rights.

Regenerative: Each gender has its own strengths to be appreciated and equal rights. People should be able to define gender in their own way.

Organization

Medieval: The world is organized in a given hierarchy, and human organization should reflect that.

Modern: Things should be organized in bureaucracies for maximum efficiency and in markets to maximize economic growth.

Regenerative: Systems are spontaneously self-organizing in multi-level networks, while still benefiting from visionary input. Organizations and technology should be aligned with natural process, including human nature.

Size

Medieval: Small scale is natural.

Modern: Bigger is better—in buildings, organizations, population, economies, military might, technology, and national power.

Regenerative: Everything should be of a size that is appropriate to its function and the scope required for effectiveness, and no larger.

Action

Medieval: Do what is moral and right.

Modern. Do what works.

Regenerative: Do what contributes to the quality of life.

Attitude toward Nature

Medieval: The natural world is an enchanted place where we belong.

Modern: Nature consists of unlimited natural resources to be used for human benefit.

Regenerative: Nature is made up of complex, interrelated, evolving ecosystems. We are a part of nature and must align society with natural processes. We are respectful stewards of all forms of life.

Spirituality

Medieval: The world is a divine hierarchy. We receive wisdom from the religious authorities. We can become redeemed or enlightened through personal effort within our religion.

Modern: Religion is superstition. Science provides the only way of truly understanding reality.

Regenerative: Spiritual development involves a dynamic unfolding of our connection to a larger mystery that can take a variety of forms. We aim to embody spirit in all aspects of our lives and society.