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Reinforcing Worldviews

Updated on January 31, 2011

It has been said that a worldview is the lens through which a person views reality. It is like a pair of glasses that have been forged from one's experience, society, and values to make sense of this thing that we call life. Every person worldwide, by definition, has a worldview. No two people share identical worldviews, but people of like experience, society, and values will more than likely share a very similar worldview. This is seen most clearly through a set of themes and counterthemes. Themes are in essence a limited number of deeply held premises that are the most instrumental in shaping one's view of reality as a whole. A countertheme is what keeps a theme from going too far.  

Worldviews are reinforced in a people's mentality by certain socio-cultural institutions.  Whether it be ceremonies, or institutions, or even media...all these things have elements of a society's themes and counterthemes which are subconsciously reinforcing those worldviews in people's very being.  It can make things difficult to sort out, for as Paul Hiebert says "they (worldviews) are what we use to think with, not what we think about."

An American Example

Two of the most obvious themes in society in the United States are freedom and equality.  These two things are ingrained in an American's head from the day he is born until the day he dies.  In our core, we believe that we are free to do whatever we want.  This goes beyond our democratic system of government.  Think about questions we ask our kids: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  At the very root of this question lies these two things.  First we are assuming that they are free to choose whatever path they want to take in life.  It's not just ingrained in our heads, we are then subconsciously teaching children that they are free to choose whatever path they want.  Also assumed in this question that they have equal opportunity as anyone else.  A child in India born into a caste system would not have this basic assumption.  

However, both of these themes have a countertheme.  Basically, we all implicitly understand that we can't take those two things, freedom and equality, to the extreme.  Freedom doesn't mean freedom to do anything, or society would run amok.  People aren't free to be thieves, murderers, or pedophiles.  There are limits to freedom, and we welcome those.  Also we don't take equality to the extreme.  A busboy can't make decisions to change a 5 star restaurants recipes.  A minor cannot serve in the military.  A blind man cannot be a taxi cab driver.  We know that people are different and have unique situations and we welcome that.

In countries like Russia and China, the themes and counterthemes are reversed.  Rather than have freedom and equality as the themes, their themes are hierarchy and control.  They can't take those things to the extreme or society would crumble, and that's why freedom and equality are offered as counterthemes.


One need not look far to find the themes that I'm describing to you reinforced through our socio-cultural institutions; namely the media.  We can find the subconscious reaffirmations of freedom and equality in most every song on the radio.

The top song in the country for the month of December 2010 was Firework by Katy Perry.  I'm doubtful that Katy has ever heard of the concept of worldview, and more than likely would not even care to know what a cultural theme was.  I don't really blame her.  I'm an anthropologist so I find it fascinating.  But normal people, well they prefer to deal less with abstract subtleties and focus more on the here and now.  To each his own.  Her song firework, however, speaks volumes into the American worldview and reinforces it to her audience, all unbeknown to her.

As she talk about feeling insignificant she makes the following statement:

"Do you know that there's still a chance for you
Cause there's a spark in you"

The song continues to talk about how basically you can do anything because you're a remarkable individual.  She is making this statement not about any one particular person, but about any person who could possibly be listening.  This speaks more to the American theme of Individualism, but the point still stands:  this is a deeply held American (or possibly even Western) assumption.  I don't think that this song would make it to the top of the charts in Bhutan.  Why?  Because people don't believe that, nor would they identify with it.  Here it works because we believe that and identify with it.

I hope to make more hubs in the future about songs that reinforce our cultural beliefs.  Until then, listen critically to your radio and see what things you can find.


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    • thequast profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      I would like to say that when I say it is an "American assumption" I don't necessarily mean that I'm saying its wrong. I'm simply stating that just because we see the issue in black in white, not everyone worldwide sees the same issue in the same colors that we do.


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