What is a worldview? Can it change?
James W. Sire, in “Discipleship of the Mind,” defines worldview as “… a set of presuppositions … which we hold … about the makeup of our world.” How a person sees where they live, what they believe to be true (both good and bad) socially, culturally, politically, and spiritually are all part of their worldview.
I always wonder: what’s the worldview of each person I meet? Do they try to expand it, or do they let it flex and change as they move around the planet or their daily life?
Can one’s worldview change without traveling to the far corners of the earth?
I think the answer is yes. As an avid reader I know that books, particularly great works of literature, have opened my eyes, shifted my thoughts, and expanded my worldview in ways I’d never considered before reading that exact story, in those exact words.
The children’s book author, Mary Pope Osborne, says, “Reading is the basic springboard for learning. And books provide the liftoff. They are the great equalizer, opening up new worlds to everyone.”
Once a new world is encountered on the pages of a book, it’s impossible to hold on, entirely, to your old worldview. But how do you find the right book to expand your worldview? I think you need to start by asking the question: which world?
For starters, there’s the word right outside our own windows: this country we live in with all of its good and bad, conflict and joy, division and amazing diversity.
To begin to expand your worldview, read books about the view outside your window.
Maya Angelou’s, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” was a groundbreaking book when it was first published in 1969. A memoir written with a nod to traditional forms of fiction, it’s an astonishing coming of age story that tackles racism and trauma and takes the reader on a journey to overcome both.
Angelou is quoted as saying, “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
It’s time, I believe, to read diversely in order to have empathy with, and a nuanced understanding of, this country we all live in and the people who are our neighbors.
Another coming of age novel, “The House on Mango Street,” by Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros, rocked the book-world in 1984. The story of a young Latina, Esperanza Cordero, and her life (and desire to escaped it) in a Puerto Rican and Chicano neighborhood in Chicago is as relevant and eye-opening today as ever. As a proud Latina myself, I can relate to authors with ancestry similar to mine. But their stories often are so, so different than mine, so I find myself learning about the vast diversity even within the Latino community.
Dozens other worlds deserve to be explored, in my opinion. One is that of the Native Americans who preceded all other people here, another is that of the crumbling communities of impoverished white America. In addition, there are the stories of differently-abled individuals, stories from other countries, and even science fiction and fantasy stories, which can teach us a lot about humanity regardless of the setting.
The realities of being Native American are described beautifully and wrenchingly by Sherman Alexie. He describes his culture as one of storytelling: “I grew up in a storytelling culture, a tribal culture, but also in an American storytelling culture.” Although he did write a movie, “Smoke Signals,” the people he writes about are not “Hollywood Indians.” Any one of his books is well worth reading.
Louise Erdrich is another author whose books feature Native American characters and settings. Widely acclaimed, in 2012, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round House.
“Hilbilly Elegy,” by J. D. Vance is a memoir/autobiography. Vance is a product of the blue-collar working class, ie: “white trash”. His family is descended from hillbillies who live in Kentucky and Ohio. His parents divorced and his mother is in and out of rehab. The book describes his family’s life and his struggle to succeed in the face of terrible odds.
Stories written by authors outside of the US, and set there as well, can expand our views across the pond while also touching on universal issues we might not have first-hand experience with. Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” is another must-read, following the story of a young British man on the autism spectrum. Though not explicitly about being disabled, the book lends readers perspective on being an outsider and seeing the world in a different way, an experience that is at once familiar and mind-bending.
From “The Kite Runner” to “The God of Small Things,” there are countless more examples of literature set in places other than the West. They are filled with enough heart and revelation to alter anyone’s worldview permanently. As for fantasy, even “Harry Potter” has proven to have shaped the values of the kids that grew up reading it.
I love to travel, and believe you really get to know a place by meeting and connecting with the people who live there. It’s an automatic worldview changer.
But, in my opinion, you don’t always have to travel and the people you “meet” don’t have to be real—their world doesn’t even have to be! If a book is by an author who is good, really good, immersing yourself in the life of a fictional character can expand your worldview without having to leave your favorite comfy chair.