Delving Deeper into the Power/Fear Worldview

This is part four of a 4-part series on the Three Colors of Worldview. Links to the other articles are at the bottom.

In predominant Power/Fear societies, the focus is on quickly assessing where one fits in the hierarchy and aligning oneself with the right people to grow one’s influence and power. It is important to control one’s fear and, if needed, use fear to control others.

Power can have many faces; it can be fierce, or kind; destructive, or empowering and live-giving. When the leader of the group focuses on empowering the members rather than on instilling fear, then the sense of belonging and loyalty is a lot greater.

In some societies that are predominantly Power/Fear based, the instilling of fear happens through religion like in animistic societies, but there are many examples of non-religious societies and countries where Power/Fear is the primary driver. (Big corporations, military units, dictatorships.)

On the surface, P/F and H/S societies might look the same and they do have a lot of similarities but there are also pronounced differences.

Power/Fear oriented societies tend to be group societies too, but the fear factor makes that the sense of belonging to the group can be less than in an Honor/Shame oriented society. 

In an Honor/Shame driven worldview, loyalty and belonging to the group are the keywords and this belonging is usually something that is lasting and may even have developed across multiple generations. In a Power/Fear driven worldview, control and power are the keywords and the focus is more on the leader and on the here and now. Allegiance in a Power/Fear driven world can switch rather easily when power balance changes. In an Honor/Shame driven world switching allegiance is usually out of the question and considered a disgrace. 

Relating to People with an Power/Fear Worldview

In a Power/Fear environment, loyalty and compliance are important words as are security, empowerment and protection. The leader, or person in control expects loyalty and compliance (and public expressions of praise, honor & respect) from those under him and the follower expects protection and empowerment from the leader. It is similar to the patron/client relationships that were present in ancient Greek and Roman Societies and still exist in many societies.

How to relate to a person with a primary P/F worldview depends a lot on where you both are in the hierarchy.

If the other is higher in hierarchy, the best thing to do is to praise and defend them in public and raise disagreements and concerns in private. This way you’ll not be seen as a threat to their reputation and position. 

If the other is lower in hierarchy, he/she might have a lingering fear about what to expect from you. The best strategy is to show them that you are benevolent towards them and can be trusted.

In a P/F environment, reconciliation happens through realignment and public display of loyalty with the other party. Obviously, this means the lesser realigning with the one in power. The one without power asks forgiveness and mercy of the one in power. The one in power forgives and bestows benevolence. The one in power doesn’t have so much of a need to reconcile as there are less repercussions. (see this article by n-Culture and this article by CT). Exchanges of gifts are less necessary and it’s showing loyalty more than admission of wrong.

Shifting Dynamics

Every society and every person's worldview is a unique mix of the three primary worldviews. These worldviews can shift over time.

Trauma, war and oppression are drivers that increase the influence of Power/Fear in someone's worldview. Sometime's it is a temporary change, sometimes a lasting one. Refugees and people who suffered severe abuse are examples of individuals who are likely to have an increase of influence ofPower/Fear as a worldview driver.  

Ruthless dictators can move entire countries toward Fear as a worldview driver. Think Russia after the revolution*, Eastern Europe, North Korea. In a corporate or organizational setting the same can happen with strong, dominant leaders and we call the result toxic work cultures. Many times, this oppression and rule by fear leads to the break-down of existing groups and of trust in relationships, which makes it hard to diminish fear as a driver when the dictator is brought down. 

Poverty also has a strong potential to increase the influence of Power/Fear as a worldview driver. Ruby Payne describes the difference in thinking between the poor and the middle class in America (A Framework for Understanding Poverty) and similarities with respectively Power/Fear and Innocence/Guilt in our Three Colors of Worldview tool are striking.

Power/Fear and the Christian Faith

Most of the history the Bible chronicles is of societies with a strong Honor/Shame worldview, but Power/Fear was as dominant as a worldview driver as Honor/Shame. Israel had a hard time trusting God and over and over again started following the gods of the peoples around them, wanting a god who is visible (statues and status), but also feeling that these gods were more powerful, as their people were more powerful. This switching of allegiance points at an underlying P/F worldview (but still with strong elements of H/S).

Other examples of P/F behavior were Abraham (trying to save his own skin at the expense of his wife and half-sister), Abraham choosing to trust God when sacrificing Isaac, Jacob’s disapproval of the murder of the Shechemites (which was rooted in fear). The Honor/Shame worldview favors self-sacrifice to preserve the honor of the group above self-preservation.

If we look at the story of the fall in Genesis 3, we see that fear, both positional fear (God’s wrath, curse) and emotional fear were a result of Adam & Eve’s actions as they hid out of fear and were now under God’s curse. 

The law of Moses reiterates that position of fear, where the list with curses for breaking the law is four times as long as the list of blessings for keeping the law.

At the cross Jesus dealt with the problem of sin by being the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. He was the gift of propitiation that took away God’s wrath and restores a free flow of God's love. At the cross He also defeated satan and we don't have to fear him either.

* Roland Muller notes in his book MMC (ch 15 + 18) that Russia already had a strong Power/Fear component in its culture under the Tsars.


This is part four of a 4-part series on the Three Colors of Worldview. Below are the links to the other articles.

If you want build your understanding of culture and worldviews, and your ability to relate better to people who are different, join us for a workshop or an e-Learning journey

1. The Three Colors of Worldview

2. Delving Deeper into the Honor/Shame Worldview

3. Delving Deeper into the Innocence/Guilt Worldview

4. Delving Deeper into the Power/Fear Worldview

Published April 29th, 2019 

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