Is the world a cold, threatening place, or is it a warm, supportive place?

I just returned from the Global Gathering of graduates of Transformational Presence Leadership and Coach Training. Though this wasn’t an intentional theme of the organizers, one of the themes I took away was the question “Is the world a cold, threatening place, or is it a warm, supportive place?”. Actually, the question is “do you perceive the world as a cold, threatening place, or do you perceive it as a warm, supportive place?”.   Keep in mind that, when phrased this way, it makes it sound like its hot vs. cold, when of course it’s always varying degrees of warmth.

But one does have a choice in one’s answer to your question, though it often doesn’t feel that way, depending on one’s life path. My recognition of this theme began during the start of one coaching exercises (thanks Peggy!), when I realized I grew up with the view that the world is a threatening place. In general, in coaching one doesn’t spend much time ‘unpacking’ the past; that delicate work is left to psychotherapists trained for that. But it only took a few minutes to reflect on my being born in a tough part of town, the South Side of Chicago, in the tumultuous mid-50’s – a time of ‘white flight’, when blacks moved into the South Side in great numbers, leading to large numbers of whites to flee to the suburbs. My father worked in Army Counter-Intelligence, ostensibly looking for Communists who had infiltrated the government; the shadow of Joe McCarthy loomed large. We weren’t poor, but by no means were we financially secure. Growing up in this environment, it was natural that I would come to view the world as a threatening place. It’s a win-or-lose, dog-eat-dog world-view, that sadly is coming to dominate much of our political landscape in the US and Europe.

The world now feels to me like a very different place, though I’d say I perceive it still as lukewarm. Only this week, after the TPLC Global Gathering, did I come to realize that this is really a choice – to choose to perceive it as threatening, rather than supportive. Given my upbringing, this perception is not surprising, but it’s been decades since I left home – the time to shift this perception is long overdue.

World-views have pervasive implications. Among other things, one tends to be drawn to people and situations which reinforce this world-view.  When one sees the world as dark and threatening, you readily spot your enemies, at the expense of recognizing your friends; it’s easy to find oneself migrating to unsupportive (or even toxic) work environments. With this world-view, one might feel uncomfortable around those who view things as inherently warm and supportive. To appreciate that this world-view is a choice, something that one can change today at will, is transformational. And, of course, it’s not like flipping a switch, from threatening to supportive, but one can set an intention to keep shifting it towards supportive.

The more one perceives the world as warm and supportive, the more one will recognize those moments when people are being that way.  (Some might call this ‘the law of attraction’.) Alan Seale, the founder of Transformational Presence, says that there are only two fundamental emotions, Fear and Love, and advocates “Choose Love”. Frankly, I haven’t understood the significance of this phrase, as it reminds me of the hippies’ advocacy of ‘free love’ during the ’60’s. I now see one way to understand it is in the context of one’s choice for this world-view, threatening (Fear) or supportive (Love).

And making this choice doesn’t imply a Pollyana-ish world-view that everyone in the world is supportive and non-threatening. Think of Melanie Hamilton from Gone With The Wind – she was deeply kind and caring, and forgave Scarlett for her indiscretion with Ashley. Yet she was still able to shoot an invading soldier when it was necessary.

For me, this shift towards a supportive world-view really began as I got more deeply into yoga and meditation, ultimately graduating from Kripalu as a yoga teacher. I’ve been teaching yoga at Buddhaful Souls since. My work as a life- and leadership-coach has enhanced this shift.

What choice are you making? Is the world to you mainly cold and threatening, or does it seem warm and supportive? Who might be offering support, or are ready to offer support, that you’re not recognizing?

It’s your choice.