Worldviews and Values


Worldviews and Values

Drawn up by Madronna Holden

The worldviews and values on the left express “partnership” ( most often indigenous) societies centered on cooperation and sharing and the ones on the right express the values of industrialized societies centered on competition. (Values are listed in bold)

 These contrasts represent a continuum of human choices.  Though particular societies tend to fall on one side of this continuum, there is considerable individual variation within a society, as well as tension between values (or ethical standards) and actions. The fact that so many choose to live ancient and sustaining values today—no matter what their culture of origin–  provides hope for our shared future.

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Your feedback is welcome as we work toward the world we want.

 Nature’s Character


Nature as sacred source of life:                          Garden of Eden: wild is either utopia

or savage like its original inhabitants

Nurturance and power connected                    Nature romanticized

nature and the feminine

(reverence)                                                                 Nature is infinitely susceptible to

                                                                                          human control and domination

Cosmic hospitality (gratitude)                              Nature can be manipulated

to serve human ends


Life is a gift     (generosity)                                      Nature chaotic if not controlled

Acceptance of mystery (humility)                        Nature must be deciphered and


There is nothing outside of nature                     Nature and human, nature and

Human/nature; nature/                                           spiritual separated (dualism)

spirit are intimately connected  (holism)

       Human place in nature


Nature as Teacher, Ethical Model                   Domination and control:

Source of vision                                                     humans consider lord

Nature is refuge                                                       owner

Human partnership with nature as               steward

Guest                                                                            manager

child of Mother Nature                                           humans separate from and above


all life part of natural “family”:                            humans improve nature to

make   progress

“all my relations”; kinship of all life

Humans as witness                                                  Spirituality based on transcendence

co-creator                                                                      of or escape from earthly life


based on immanence,

living one’s story

in web of life/ retelling the

story of one’s people

Each natural place unique                            Natural places abstract and can be

in spirit                                                                exchanged for one another as in

shopping malls or McDonalds;

land as quantitative parcels

one can be exchanged for another

Ecosystems can be re-created

by  humans, as in engineered

wetlands  replacing natural ones

destroyed by development


Survival Strategies


Long-term (seven generations)                       Short-term (five year plan)

Natural cycles, things happen when              clock time, rush; faster the better

 Appropriate, when ready                                   making things happen

Cyclical time                                                             linear time

Determined by interdependence                   Determined by individualism, moment

Life and death intertwined                                Leave behind/ abandon the past;

Renewal                                                                  “Arrow of time”

Eternal spiral of return                                     “Stag fight” between father and son

between mother and daughter                     Instant gratification of material desires

(Infinity sign)                                                        spiritual desires put off till next world

Patience                                                                     efficiency

Survival determined by                                          “Fittest” are those who

assuming a place in web of life                                  displace others

“Fittest” are those who help                                 Strength/power over others defines

others (cooperation)                                                                “fittest”  (competition)

“Cream rises to the top”  (hierarchy)


determined by memory of past,                     Success is making it is as an individual

how long remembered in future;                       against other individuals,

Success  based on cooperation                             a society against other society;

connection, relationship                                            a species against other species

Achievement consists of expanding                      Individual  economic achievement

and challenging oneself /                                                       is goal in life

Embracing and extending oneself

To others   (inclusion)                                           Achievement consists in


others (exclusion; division)

Economic Systems/Material Culture


Natural model of reciprocity/sharing                         Accumulation/ saving for self

“What goes around comes around”                                  one’s social group

Life is a gift shared                                                          Idea of scarcity predominates

by the rest of nature and

therefore must be returned:

“The gift must always move.”                                    Food, shelter, clothing                                                                                                                  earned by the individual

If one is hungry, all are hungry                        (consumption/growth)

Human needs must be honored                        More and bigger are better

but also constrained

in terms of the web of life

Balance                                                                      Externalize costs, internalize benefits

Psychological growth,                                                 to those with privilege

but stable human  population


Material Goods\Property


Ownership consists of “spiritual”

or personal items such as                               Material goods and means of exchange

songs, visions, dreams, stories                          are “abstract” or symbolic

personal power,                                                (e.g. money) (private property)

certain artistic creations                                 Everything below oneself

(commons)                                                           in the hierarchical world is an

Everything is alive:                                              object and can be used as such

world is inter-subjective

We belong to the natural world                     Natural world belongs to its owners/

consists of resources to be used

as owners choose

Belonging determined through                                Belonging through private                                                                                                                            ownership

ancestors/ history (roots)                               title/entitlement

story/ myth    (community)                           territorial protection: fences, borders

naming/ language                                              adapting land to particular humans

vision                                                                          conquest:

adaptation of humans to land

“My village is the earth and

And all that lives on this land.”

“Away from here he could not sleep;                  Economic system seen as abstract:

He did not know who he was.”

I Heard the Owl Call my Name)  


 Hospitality, resource shared                       Land’s resources belong to individuals

Trade has spiritual,                                        Conquest as a means to ownership

inter-personal dimensions

Land a place of spirit and mystery              Land a collection of “resources”

Permanence, sense of home                        “Use up and move on”           (objectification)

material is spiritual and vice versa

Everything is alive



Power and danger related                                 Do things because we can do them

Care:  things should be tested                         Do things because they are convenient

by time, fit into order of                                (efficiency, convenience, profit)


Human adaptation to natural world                  Attempt to control nature world; adapt natural world to humans


Social Arrangements


Getting along with others                          Winning out over others

Diversity honored/ pluralism                                 

 “Permaculture” (enduring culture)             Monoculture: winners write history

Humility                                                                 Pride and egoism: ethnocentrism,                                                                                           racism, sexism, speciesism

Arrogance and greed                                             Arrogance and greed socially

    socially constrained                                            rewarded

Interdependence                                                      Independence

All are important/ incorporation of               In-groups and out-groups

   all members of society

Partnership between male and female                       Domination of female by male,

      human and nature                                                             nature by human

Cooperation                                                                                 Competition

Balance                                                                                          Continual change equals


Personality based on interdependence/                        Rugged individualism                 

    Expansion of self by extension to others                                                                               


Individual spirit/experience/dreams                 Individual psyche and experience private/ inviolate                                                          validated by external social


                                                                                                 feelings legislated by others

Power and Authority

Social and sacred power                                  Power

shared through connection                                seized and held through violence/

Power within                                                           assertion of self over others            

Power with                                                           Power over

Power as service                                                 Power as self-aggrandizement

Power and danger known to be linked,         Power as manipulation

Power used with care and balance                   Get and use all power one can get

                                                                                      Social power accumulates/ protected

Social power circulates and shifts                         by social institutions

with context

Privilege abhorred                                                   Privilege the basis of society

Status based on sharing, giving away,                         

         creating on behalf of others                        Status based on

                                                                                              Keeping resources from others

On model of  nature.,                                                      Nurturance and power severed

 nurturance and power linked

Authority honored when expressed                       Authority held by force

as wisdom/generosity/service to community

Those in authority sacrifice most for others       Authority brings privilege

Social order expressed                                                        Social order expressed and

and enforced by                                                                           enforced through

honoring personal initiative                                            commandments, police/army

stories                                                                                             relationship



Authority linked to trust                                                          Authority linked to secrecy/control

Obedience to one’s unique spirit/calling                           Obedience to social


Older generation protects the younger, helps

younger to understand personal spirit;

Younger generation honors older for its                     “Youth” culture

wisdom, caring, practical knowledge                           Authority linked with strength;

Vulnerability linked to bonding/intimacy                    vulnerability feared, dangerous

vulnerability and strength interdependent

Consensus decision-making                                        representative,                                                                                                      majority/minority, or

interest group decision-making

Sexuality and Gender


Natural model of reciprocity:                           Sexuality and domination linked

giving and getting pleasure                               Sexuality linked to property rights

linked                                                                       Sexuality linked to conquest

Partnership idea of male and female,                Sexuality and violence linked

and other gender expressions                               Male control over the feminine

Bonding through physical touch                          Touch used for domination/attack physical

Sexuality linked with intimacy,

social and economic ties;

Inheritance based on social parenting          Inheritance based on passing on genes

Conscience of the senses”                                   Beauty created by image/perfection

Natural beauty and ethical good                      Ambivalent attitude toward beauty

one and the same                                                   and pleasure’s relationship to “good”

Opening senses important to spiritual              Sensual information denied/

development/ ethical connection           “lower” than rational  knowledge/          to natural

Body as teacher                                                          Mind-Body split

Sexual expression                                                  Hierarchy enforced by gender roles

linked to personal,

interpersonal, sacred meaning

Gender definitions fluid                                                Gender definitions rigid

Gender ground:                                                             strict male/female divisions/ homophobia

Gender Ground:                                         Gender roles played by individuals though

Organized by those within a gender:                          decided by others/ society

place of meaning to stand together)

gays as “bridge” gender

balanced relationship between genders:

as in Hopi tradition:  male work a gift to women and

female work a gift to men


This outline is copyright, Madronna Holden, 2013. As always please feel free to link and share with attribution. i


Here are the lectures for my OSU class on worldviews and environmental values:

Lecture One: Introduction and overview

Lecture Two:  Interdependent versus Dualistic Worldviews

Lecture Three: Reciprocity

Lecture Four: Does Land Belong to the People or People to the Land?

Lecture Five: Humans and Other Animals

Lecture Six:  Wildness, Technology and Domestication

Lecture Seven: The Green World

Other related material on this site:


Indigenous Peoples


“Stay in One Place“:  satirical native folklore on pioneer lack of belonging

Indigenous ecology in the Pacific Northwest

Here are two important documents that indicate the worldview changes needs to address current environmental concerns:

Indigenous summit on climate change

UN Earth Charter

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