If you want a glimpse into the impact of worldview on how we see and interact with the world, you only have to look as far as the Canadian and US election campaigns. In Canada we are in the middle of an elongated federal election campaign to conclude in October 2015 and in the US candidates are campaigning to represent their party in the 2016 Presidential election. The commercial and social media coverage is pervasive and intense. Is it fair coverage? It depends on who you talk to, what you see and what gets through your filters ~ essentially your worldview.
Your worldview will influence who and what you pay attention to – including media sources, who and what you dismiss, what “facts” you gravitate towards, what information you will believe and share. It influences your political view. It makes you wonder why anyone would vote for the “other side”, the other perspective (if you are even so generous as to call it a perspective). Does, doesn’t it? Do you see your experience yet?
With the prevalence of social media that is adaptive to your worldview, it influences what shows up in your “news” feeds. As one of my friends commented recently, “There is no other time at which it is clearer that we exist in social media ‘bubbles’ than during an election. Looking at most of my Facebook feed, I could begin to imagine that the election result is a fait accompli. Then one or another of my ‘other’-leaning friends will post something from an ‘other’ -leaning page. I will read the comments, and I’m reminded that there are a lot of people out there who don’t share the opinions of me and many of my friends.”
We pay attention to information that supports our worldview. On social media, we post information and articles that support our perspective. Social media obliges and spits back out at us information that supports our worldview, burying, for the most part, those contradictory opinions. We may not even look at information that is contrary to our perspective (and for sure most of us wouldn’t post contrary information) because, clearly, it can’t be true. Or could it?
In our work on Worldview Intelligence, Jerry Nagel and I talk about how we work with information, and on talking and listening (borrowing a little from Theory U). At the surface level, it is simply about downloading. If we are talking, we share what we already know, trying to convince someone else of our own perspective. When we are listening, we listen for what we want to hear and dismiss everything else, including, often, the person we are in a discussion or argument with – dismissing their view or perspective, dismissing them, defending our own point of view, often working from judgment and preconception, sure we are right and they are wrong – about this particular thing anyway.
We want to argue based on the “facts”. So we keep searching for facts that support our position or, in this case, our political view. Someone with a different perspective will search for facts that support their position or political view. And we will each look at the other’s “facts” and interpret them in a way that supports our own argument. We end up at a stalemate – which is what we are seeing in so many of the political debates these days – not just the televised ones but the ones we may have with those of a different political stripe – a stalemate between perspectives and sides and an entrenchment in positions with very little room or opportunity for generative public discourse.
Right now, in politics and on other substantive issues, there seems to be very little appetite to go deeper with listening and talking, to bring curiosity to different perspectives or even to bring curiosity to how attached we are to our own perspectives. It may be partly fear based. We fear what we don’t understand. We fear the picture of the future we have created (or has been created for us) if “they” get into office or if certain scenarios play themselves out. We are working with entrenched perspectives and systems that seem to leave little room for real exploration.
It we only look to information that supports our perspective it is easy to become inured to the full picture, to believe that the way we see the world is the way it is. This is why your perception of campaign momentum may not be reflected in the ultimate election results and why, if you are passionate about a party or a candidate or a particular platform, you might want to be a bit vigilant in your information sources.
In the research Jerry and I have been doing on the psychology of Worldviews (Koltko-Rivera as one source), we are learning that when our worldview is threatened, when we find ourselves in a state of insecurity, we respond as if our very life is threatened. This means we become more deeply entrenched in our own perspective, have a greater need to defend how we see the world and convince someone else that it is the “right” way to see the world. We recently saw that played out in Canadian politics as a supporter of the current Prime Minister made irrational accusations about the reporters who were covering the story.
It will be interesting to see how the elections in both countries unfold. I personally find myself posting information that supports my worldview while at the same time viewing some of that same information with a bit of skepticism. Knowing I am tuned into information that supports my worldview and that the “facts” I gravitate towards may simply be an interpretation of the reality I want to see, I remain somewhat cautious about what the results might be once the polls have closed.