So I’ve decided to post some of my grad school online forum posts here as well since for the next 8 weeks I won’t really have time to post much new stuff in both places and I don’t get graded on my blog (I think). Below is my first assignment for this new class in response to some questions on worldviews and how they influence our private and professional life. Since this is a more public forum than my online classroom I will not be posting my Watchmen PDF here for the sake of respecting their copyright. I don’t have a problem with the online equivalent of show and tell with some classmates but I think blogging copyrighted stuff is crosses the line into reproduction without permission. The issue number and page references are in the post, I highly recommend you get yourself a copy. I also highly recommend the other text I reference, Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. One of the most readable and fascinating studies of organizational leadership I have read. I welcome comments but won’t necessarily have time to reply like I might normally.
How would you describe your ” worldview” – your philosophy of life and reason for living? How does that impact your personal and professional life? Who/what is at the center of your worldview?
My worldview is based on the notion that each human life is of inestimable inherent value. Over the years as I have taught classes and worked with kids to help them understand their own value I have come to codify my worldview into my Three Rules (these are adapted from a less formal set of rules a couple of old co-workers of mine used all the time that stuck with me as I developed my own use for them). I don’t pretend that I’ve got these down pat, but I strive to live the following every day:
1. Go big or stay home. Because we are incredibly valuable, we have an obligation to our nature to aim for the utmost in whatever we do. This means striving to be our best, even if that isn’t as good as someone else’s best. This doesn’t mean that we can’t simply do things for fun but that when we do we should not rob ourselves of that fun by being overly competitive. If you have to win to have fun then you probably need that win to prove to yourself that you have value. When you already understand your value you can truly appreciate the successes of others and encourage them to greater heights knowing that nothing they do can detract from who you are. In my worldview to attempt nothing is far worse than failure.
In my personal life this meant, after many years of looking for a wife to show that I was worthwhile, finally letting go and waiting until the right partner came along, even though at first I thought she was “out of my league”. By setting my standards high I not only have found a great wife and friend but I can also relate to her without needing her to support my self-esteem. I don’t need her constant approval to still know that I’m OK which means that in moments of conflict I can lay aside my need to be right and work with her to solve the problem.
Professionally this means finding a career that involves things you enjoy and for which you have talent. It is at this crossroads of joy and skill that I believe our most excellent achievements are possible. (That last sentence may also be read in your best Bill and Ted voice, I won’t be offended.) With excellence, the financial rewards or additional responsibility we seek will come from something we had pleasure in doing. Too many people, in my view, work too hard to afford things they never have time to enjoy.
I realize that sometimes circumstances put us in a position where we have to take whatever work comes our way. Even so, if we know ourselves and the kinds of things at which we excel we can emphasize the positives of our situation until another comes along. Valuing ourselves does not mean that some jobs are too menial for us – I’ve cleaned toilets in a South African township for free – it means that those jobs do not make us who we are. So we can invest ourselves wherever we are fully to gain the most from each experience rather than waiting for someone to give us the opportunity we think we deserve. There is an old theatre adage, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” If you can be your best in the small things, when big opportunities come along you’ll be ready.
2. Always a pleasure, never a chore. I picked up this phrase from the assistant manager of a pub I used to frequent in Plymouth, England. Every night he would shout that while standing on the bar as part of his “we’re closed, get out” spiel. It struck me the first time I heard it and I’ve been using it ever since because it so perfectly illustrates the attitude I want to have about caring for and serving others.
I believe that the Golden Rule is not so much a command as a statement of principle: one loves ones neighbor as one loves oneself. I have found that the deeper I accept my own value, the easier it becomes to see the value in others. As I seek to perfect that view of others (because of rule 1), it becomes ever easier for me to give to those around me without seeking anything in return.
The best example I have for what happens when this rule is followed and broken involves going out to lunch with a group of close friends back in DC. We’ve known each other since high school and over the years all of us have had our ups and downs financially, sometimes just from month to month. Because our friendship meant more to us than the price of a Big Mac and fries if one of us couldn’t go because of money we’d tell them not to worry about it, one of us would cover it. Most of the time, that person was covering at least one of us the next time so over the long haul everything evened out. The result of all this was a deep, deep set of friendships based on mutual respect, trust and fast food.
After a while, though, a couple of my friends started doing better at work and gained some financial success the rest of us had (or have) yet to reach. Because they never found themselves on the short end of the stick they began counting the times they’d pitched in and became very regimented about who they helped and how much. It didn’t help matters that their tastes had also grown more expensive and so they wanted to eat at places fewer of us could easily afford. As a result, our friendships slowly began to deteriorate. I still remember the day that one friend told me that they weren’t comfortable fronting me the cash for Wendy’s until I’d paid them the two fast food lunches I owed them. I realized in that moment that somewhere along the line I had ceased to be a friend and had become a line item in his ledger. We don’t talk any more. In fact, I don’t think any of the people in that group talk to him any more.
Being aware of our own value and the value of others frees us to be generous and in giving we most accurately express our true nature. In my professional life this means that I can give a hand to anyone without regard to whether or not it will boost my position. Karen’s example of her boss taking credit for her work is a perfect example. She knows that the right work was done well and she has been true to herself and her own worth by not stooping to petty attention-grabbing. Sometimes the best thing we can give is our support to the right course of action.
The other application of this principle, for me, is a deep passion for mentoring others. I think that mentoring may be the single greatest task a leader can undertake. By sharing my time and experience generously I make it easier for newer members of the organization to achieve more than those of us who’ve gone before while passing on the values that have made us successful and define our mission and our methods.
3. Don’t be poopy, don’t be poopy, don’t be poopy. Not much more to say, really. Being mean, spiteful, cynical and cruel is a waste of everything we are. Most of these actions are fueled by a jealous desire to take from others something that wish we had or wish we were. Nothing we take can make us more than we already are nor can it make our victims less than what they are. Our worth is set forever at “immeasurable” and cannot be changed any more than a gold ingot can be made less valuable by covering it in mud or more valuable by washing it off.
This series considers two “diametrically” opposed worldviews. What are your initial impressions of the secular, or “scientific,” worldview? The ” spiritual” worldview? Explain how these impression contribute to or mediate your worldview?
My impression of the secular worldview is that of an outsider. I was raised in a very religious home and held fervently to a more classically spiritual worldview for the first 30 years or so of my life. I was taught that the worldview of the atheist or secularist is that because there is no God, nothing has meaning. We are all cosmic accidents and therefore nothing we do really matters. Since we are descended from a process of survival of the fittest, to follow our base passions is only natural, since that is how we’ve come so far. The fundamental premise of the secular worldview as I was taught it is that everything can be known or explained without requiring the existence of God to do so. There is no plan for the universe, no destiny, no fetters. We are as free as our minds can take us, we can potentially do anything.
The view I was raised with is that God created man for His own pleasure, man sinned and broke a perfect relationship with his Creator and only due to faith in the redeeming sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, can that relationship be restored. The fundamental truths of this worldview are God’s perfection, man’s imperfection in sin and God’s willingness to do anything to overcome the consequences of man’s sin. God has a plan for all of creation and is ultimately able to make it come about. We either cooperate with His plan or we resist. While we have free will, we are not free to do anything at all and remain confident that we are still “in His will”. Our potential is realized in relinquishing our selves to let God act through us. (Granted, this is a very specific type of spiritual worldview, but it’s the one that formed my impression of them all.)
Both worldviews, to me, have some major flaws. If one takes the secular worldview, on what basis are morals and a sense of meaning founded? A completely amoral society has never survived, so using the theory of natural selection it makes sense that moral behavior is necessary for the continuation of our species. The fact that so many people end their lives or the lives of others because they feel that life has no meaning indicates that we need a sense of meaning in order to be mentally healthy. Where are these less-than-concrete necessities to come from? What shall be the basis of our morality? What gives meaning to our lives? Science alone offers few answers, if any, to these questions.
On the other hand, where I see the spiritual worldview lacking is in the problems of evil and God’s means of communication with Man. Whether God created evil or merely the potential for evil is moot. If God created all things, and evil exists, then God is ultimately responsible for the existence of evil. If He is the uncaused cause from which everything issues then evil must have issued from Him at some point. This makes it hard to stomach the notion that we are so responsible for it that we deserve eternal damnation as a result. Certainly an all powerful God can do as He sees fit, but justifying that is like trying to justify a tobacco company setting up a firing squad for smokers.
How does the Almighty communicate with His creation? Ask a thousand people of a thousand faiths and you will get a million answers. Even people within the same faith disagree vehemently and the question of what God has said has sparked more conflict and ended more lives than perhaps any other in the history of our race. Why can’t God just talk to us, all at once? I have faith in my friends, I believe in them and I have relationships with them, none of which require them to be invisible. If God is real the way the spiritual worldview say He is, why does He need to remain so secretive?
I have spent most of my life trying to find answers to the questions the spiritual worldview raised for me. Some time ago I decided that perhaps the answers I was looking for just weren’t there so I began checking out what a secular worldview looks like from the inside. Part of this is because I discovered that most of the spiritual experiences I have had are very similar to those described by people who have been brainwashed into cults and later rescued. Some of it is based on my own study into the history of the Bible and the various writings that are not part of the Christian canon and why. My studies in these areas have caused me to re-think some of the basic assumptions of the worldview of my upbringing.
Yet I also find that I cannot simply let go of the notion that there is still something beyond matter that connects the universe. If we all did start as a Big Bang, than at one point everything that exists, us included, was mashed together into this incomprehensible Unity of Being. No matter how far through time and space our particles have flown, we bear the mark of that connectedness down to the quark. Science bears this out in our study of the behavior of subatomic particles (Wheatley, pp.41 & 42). There is still room for the miraculous in a worldview that is not centered around a specific God.
In summary, I have attached a few panels from a graphic novel called Watchmen (Knowles, Smith, Moore, & Gibbons, Vol. 9, pp.26 – 28) that very eloquently state this view of the universe and why I believe in the value of people the way that I do. Both the secular world and the spiritual world offer me a great many unknowns. What I do know is that I am here and you are here and that together we’re pretty spectacular. I plan to do my best to make the most of myself and take care of those around me and let the unknowns take care of themselves.
Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the new science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Knowles, E., Smith, M., Moore, A., & Gibbons, D. (1986, 1987). Watchmen. New York: DC Comics.