I was out driving one day, years ago, with my son Nick. He was young, maybe seven, and he’d been thinking about the state of the world.
“Hey, Dad?” he said. “Seems to me like everything is … getting worse. You know?” He looked over at me from the passenger’s seat, and I nodded. Go on, I’m listening.
He thought hard for a moment, gazing out the windshield at his sifting thoughts, then added, “But … it also seems like everything is getting better.”
I loved it. He was examining his view of the world, articulating it, testing it, sorting it out.
We each have our own worldview, consciously aware of it or not.
Your worldview is not what you think you believe or want to believe. It’s what you do believe. It drives your attitudes, decisions, and actions, moment to moment, day to day, year after year. It is the lens through which you see everything.
When I was a kid, Walter Cronkite ruled the world with an authority greater than that of presidents or kings. Every weeknight, after finishing his report on the CBS Evening News, he would leave us with his famous signoff line, “And that’s the way it is on …” whatever the date was that day.
And for millions and millions of Americans, that’s the way it was.
You have a Walter Cronkite in your head telling you how it is, not just once an evening but constantly, in a 24/7 real-time newsfeed. Your inner Cronkite scans everything happening in your world, searching out those events that confirm your personal view of the way it is, and ignoring or downplaying all other information. It filters your reality and colors every thought and perception you have.
A car cuts you off in traffic. Depending on your worldview, either you say “Oh well” and shrug it off — or your inner Cronkite supplies its confirming punch line: “… and that’s the way it is.”
If I’m going through a tough time, you can tell me “Things will work out” or “Look on the bright side,” and I may try to listen. But if I’ve got a worldview whispering inside me that says, Nothing ever works out in the long run, or Life’s a bitch and then you die — then I might hear your words but I can’t grasp the music. My inner Cronkite is drowning it out with its in my ear: “Nope, that’s not the way it is. Here’s how it is…”
If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.
When God closes a door, He opens a window.
They don’t make ’em like they used to.
Everything will be okay in the end.
If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
What goes around comes around.
Money doesn’t grow on trees…
So many different versions of worldview!
For far too many, that inner Cronkite is unconsciously and unquestioningly inherited in childhood, from parents, teachers, church, television. By cultural osmosis. The unexamined lifelens.
That was what I so loved about Nick’s rumination: he was examining it all, carefully and consciously. He was asking, “What do I think?”
When I was a teenager, a friend’s father told us one evening, “Remember these high school days, guys — they’ll be the best days of your lives.” He was jovial and friendly as he said it, but I felt distinctly uncomfortable. It was only later that night, as I was going to sleep, that the penny dropped and I realized what he was really saying:
It’s all downhill from here, boys … And that’s the way it is.
That’s why it made me feel uncomfortable. I just didn’t believe that. I still don’t.
In the four decades since that encounter, despite losses and setbacks and tragedies, my life has overall gone uphill, not down. My friend’s life, alas, has not followed the same course, but has been a drama of drugs, alcohol, and crippling disease. He has an amazingly positive attitude in the face of all his difficulties, but I can’t help wondering if he was not infected terminally with his father’s fatalistic worldview.
Driving to town one day in the fall of 1982—this is three years before Nick was born — I happened to tune the car radio to an interview with the futurist John Naisbitt, who had just published his breakout book, Megatrends. Captivated, I pulled over to listen to him read an excerpt from the last chapter. The book’s closing line hit me like a thunderclap:
What a fantastic time to be alive!
This was not an easy time in my life. I’d lost a child, was struggling financially, and my first marriage was headed for the rocks. Yet the moment I heard Naisbitt declaim those seven words I knew that deep down inside, that was fundamentally what I believed to be true.
It still is.
How do you see it? What, for you, is the way it is?