If you’re like me, you cringe when asked epic questions like “What’s your philosophy of life?” or “To whom do you ultimately belong?” Don’t get me wrong: I dig provocative discussion starters, and I’m not averse to sharing big thinking with others. It’s that I can’t answer with much certainty. Replying with “I don’t know” feels like a copout. These epic questions usually generate more questions and underscore the complexity of the human condition and the problematic narratives we often subscribe to, even if unconsciously.

Influenced by a couple of plugged-in, millennial-aged friends several years ago, I began to read, watch, and listen to environmental and cultural thought leaders who have challenged my narratives and reshaped my worldview. (I bet you’re tempted to ask, “So what is your worldview?” Please don’t.) I’ve been drawn to the “collapse-aware” work of Jem Bendell and Rupert Reed, Joanna Macy, Christiana Figueres, Charles Eisenstein, LaUra Schmidt, and many others. These sensitive thinkers have equipped me to participate in a nine-week program called “Resilience and Acceptance in the Face of Collapse.” After completing several hours of homework before each 90-minute session, our international cohort dives deep to explore topics like tools for building inner resilience, the great unraveling, emotional response to collapse, adaptation, indigenous wisdom, outer resilience, and acceptance.

I was recently tasked with providing an opener for our session on indigenous wisdom and found my way to the work of Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), a.k.a. Dr. Don Trent Jacobs. He created an extensive worldview chart that contrasts 40 common dominant worldview manifestations with indigenous views. “This chart is not intended as a rigid binary, but a true dichotomy best viewed as a continuum,” he explains. “It is meant to encourage seeking complementarity and dialogue. Absolutism is discouraged with the realization we are all participating in dominant worldview precepts to some degree.”

Recall my aversion to epic questions like “What’s your worldview?” After examining Jacobs’ work, I feel a little better prepared to formulate an answer. I’ll share my initial musings on a few of his contrasting pairs, using the abbreviations DW to denote the dominant worldview and IW for the contrasting indigenous worldview.

DW: rigid hierarchy  IW: non-hierarchical

Learning from marginalized voices has led me to recognize how racist, patriarchal, and capitalist hierarchies preserve a radically unjust status quo – one that almost always benefits me as a white, cis-gender, able-bodied man. Although the established hierarchy serves my personal comfort and safety, my evolving understanding of interconnectedness no longer allows me to selfishly cling to systems that disenfranchise and endanger so many others. 

DW: Focus on self and personal gain  IW: Emphasis on community welfare

The American Dream, debunked for some time now, guided many of us to work hard, get ahead, and live the good life. It assumed an equality of opportunity that never actually existed and gave rise to “dog eat dog” competitiveness that conflated self-interest with selfishness. The “me and mine” orientation continues to subvert efforts at community building and the advance of “the commons.” My efforts to relaunch a diverse neighborhood association, to bolster the engagement of the Climate Action team, to prevent the ivy death of hundreds of mature trees in a nearby park, to engage as a hospice volunteer – it’s all motivated by a growing commitment to developing social capital and community resilience.

DW: Fear-based thoughts and behaviors  IW: Courage and fearless trust in the universe

Scarcity mindset, anyone? The fearful othering that leads the NAACP to predict that one out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison. Hateful condemnation and brutal arrests of immigrants who cross borders illegally to escape violence and intolerable poverty. Climate change deniers who willingly ignore the preponderance of scientific evidence of ecocide and carry on with casual disregard and excessive consumption. Polls showing that a third or more of Americans younger than 45 don’t have children – or will have fewer than they might otherwise – because of climate change worries. We see what fear is doing to us, don’t we? Orienting myself in deep time and exploring the self-regulating principles of Gaia Theory and the invitations of Gaianism help reground my trust in the universe.

DW: More head than heart  IW: Inseparability of head and heart

My head has definitely led the way for most of my life. My heart is playing catch-up with help from my spiritual practice and a welcome, middle-age mellowing that makes space for new awareness, for savoring, for reckonings, for feeling all the feels. The intellect serves its powerful function of sense-making and practical decision-making, and the heart promotes compassion, cultivates hope, and savors beauty.

Jacobs’ worldview chart includes 36 more contrasting pairs, and I encourage you to read and reflect on them. It’s the right time to examine what we (think we) believe, what is serving us and our communities well, and what might help us adapt to all that’s on the way. 

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you because, well, the planet needs your urgent action – and we need each other as we navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here,  and check out our minutes and take action table, our lending library and the Carbon Offset Fund. You can also request to join the Climate Action Team on Realm. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT and join us for our next Zoom meeting on Monday, April 15, at 7:30 PM using this link.