Many of us live very interconnected lives, working and traveling across cultural and geographic boundaries. With this greater ability to bridge distances, comes increased challenges of difference and diversity. Our differences are exciting, but can be incredibly stressful—and for good reason. In our evolutionary history, humans were far more likely to be killed by another human, usually from a different tribe, than by any other predator. Hanging together ensured our survival—and we are still sensitive to difference as a possible sign of danger.
A significant difference that occurs between us in our work lives, loves lives, and social lives—one that Ken Wilber has repeatedly pointed out as being of great significance—is differences in world views. How we see the world, and the interpretations we make about it can result in enormous divisions. Something like Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl can be seen as creatively courageous or as a step backward historically. Agreement about what’s good and how we ought to live can look more and more impossible.
It is important for anyone in leadership positions today to understand how our world views evolve, and to explore how these differences can be worked with. We use a simple map for exploring world views: The Ego-centric stage with its emphasis on protecting the self, and the danger of narcissism; the Ethno-centric stage with a strong sense of community, safety, and stability which may stagnate in its conformist values; the World-centric stage which brings an immense expansion of identity, but global scale problems, and the Kosmic-centric view which frees us from the boundaries of space and time, but also insists that we re-engage the other levels.
Understanding worldviews affirms the notion that with greater maturity, comes greater perspectives and an increased capacity for care. Our identity can become more fluid, which leads us to empathize and join with others more freely—even when on the surface our differences appear significant. As we develop, our view of the world can outgrow the limitation of black and white thinking, and prejudice and fear decrease. Because our identity isn’t so rigidly fixed on ideas about “us” and “them,” we can meet others with curiosity whether or not they understand us—or agree with us. This brings along an invaluable ability to empathize, connect, relate, and bring people together for coordinated action.
Being willing and able to join with others across differences makes us a more stable, trustable influence, which is ultimately what skillful leadership rests on. For those leaders and change-makers who are wrestling with our most complex challenges, bringing people together is an essential skill that requires empathy, compassion, and the ability to integrate differences without rubbing out the creative tension of diversity.
Diane Musho Hamilton
Co-Founder and Lead Teacher, Integral Facilitator®
Author, Everything is Workable, a Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution.