This I Believe

Stephen - Weed, New Mexico
Entered on October 20, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: fear
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Intelligent, Healthy Worldviews

As a student I wanted to be thought of as smarter than others. By middle age I was competing to see who was more physically fit. Now, older, wiser, less self-centered, I believe in intelligent, healthy worldviews–and I want all of us to have one.

An intelligent worldview involves using beliefs and desires to formulate goals, then rationally planning action to attain them–employing a feedback process to monitor progress. Many people do that well. A healthy worldview involves health, which the World Health Organization defines as a sense of “complete physical, mental and social well-being” and the ability to lead a “socially and economically productive life.” Many people don’t have healthy worldviews, not necessarily because they are sick or physically unfit, but because they are poor and angry, or powerless and scared.

Long ago, I was one of them. When I was three, my grandmother died. Her death didn’t upset me, but my parents’ funeral planning did. They put Wanda, a teenage neighbor and part-time Sunday school teacher, in charge, boarded a train and left for three weeks. Wanda’s baby-sitting difficulties grew until she began asserting that if I didn’t behave, I would burn in Hell when I died. Her description –underground burial chamber, flames hotter than those in our backyard’s trash burning incinerator–and the guilt she instilled, scared me into behaving, but psychologically scarred me. For many years I had Hell-fire dreams –ones I awoke from screaming.

Hell-fire, lightning bolts, darkness, predators, snakes, spiders–there are plenty of things for children to fear that disturb sleep. Growing up means overcoming irrational fears and feelings of powerlessness, then intelligently solving problems and restoring a sense of well-being. This is true both for individuals and humanity as a whole–isn’t the human story a tale of technological advances bringing increased comfort and greater security? “Not anymore!” pessimists say, noting today’s fears of angry terrorist suicide attacks, launched by those anticipating joys of Paradise, not burning in Hell, and tomorrow’s fears of rogue nations’ nuclear bombs, and disastrous global climate change, driven by growing manmade pollution.

What should we do? Hint: use brain! Goal: long-term health and happiness–not for some, but for all. Plans: 1) Sustainable economic development that lifts and empowers the “have nots”; 2) Education that transforms a fragmented world of individuals parading their national, ethnic, or religious identity and pursuing their own self interest, into an integrated world of people who value their global citizenship, practicing The Golden Rule, and taking care of their planetary home.

I imagine a world where all people believe in the importance of intelligent, healthy worldviews, ones that promote happiness and planetary well-being. The dawning of such a world would represent the coming of age of humanity, its waking up from a long sleep, finally having grown up.