I want to talk to you about politics, morality and society as a whole. I want to talk to you about your well-being and quality of life. I care about your happiness, because I care about my own happiness. I believe they are intertwined. I do not care that it’s considered intense or unpopular to dig deep. I only care to solve the problems that have several names but are truly a central problem without a name.
You know what I am talking about. It is the insecurity that maybe you are not enough or you do not have enough. It is the uncertainty about who you are. It is the unknown about your purpose or the meaning of life. It is the feeling you are unworthy of acceptance or love. It is the doubt that there is anything true or sacred. It is the lack of a sense of belonging. It is the fear that your voice won’t be heard, and that even if you had the chance to speak, you would not know what to say or that it would not be understood.
I want to explain a subject to you that is often misunderstood, so that we are on the same page. In order to do that, I have to give you some more personal background.
Like I have mentioned in previous blogs, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home full of extremism, hypocrisy and abuse. My parents were conservative extremists because of their religious beliefs. My household was an authoritarian household. I was not allowed to have my own opinions, feelings or beliefs. If I tried to exercise my autonomy, I was made to feel guilty, told I was wrong or punished. I understand that parents want to guide their child in what they believe is the right direction. But when this is done at the expense of your child’s individuality and personal liberty, deep wounds are inevitable. And when you abuse your children because of your own insecurities, inadequacies or mental instability, the results are devastating.
My father is a sociopath and my mother is mentally ill (but she has since asked for forgiveness for the abuse and we now have a good relationship despite her struggles). They were ill-equipped to raise a child. Abuse was the outcome. The thing is… this is not just my personal problem. This is a social problem that runs rampant in society.
When are we going to admit that there is something deeply wrong with the way we live as a society?
You see, I did not realize this until I took my first sociology class. Sociology is the subject that many people do not know much about. Sociological viewpoints are not common knowledge, because they are contrary to our common sense. Psychology is the popular social science, pop psychology is common knowledge and psycho-babble is the common language. Although I think psychology is important, it is also important that we examine the human mind and individual human behavior within the context of the larger society. You cannot have one without the other, they are interrelated.
People believe they are much freer than they truly are. People believe they are more unique and individualistic than they really are. People think they are more different from others than they are similar. These beliefs are just not reality. We are not free in many ways. We are easily influenced by society. We are more similar to other people than we are different, and we share similar experiences.
I had these beliefs growing up. I believed I was alone in my experiences. I thought if people knew that I was being abused, they would think I was a freak or bad. I thought I was being punished or somehow unworthy of peace, love and happiness.
My first sociology class changed this. Knowledge had been my savior. I loved to learn new things and my appetite for information and general curiosity were never satiated. I went to college even though everyone told me that I shouldn’t. They said I could be making money and it was a waste of time. They said I had barely graduated high school due to lack of attendance (because of emotional problems related to family traumas). They said I shouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t get into the “good schools” I applied to. I didn’t care. I just wanted to learn.
That is when I learned about the “sociological imagination.” C. Wright Mills, a sociologist who coined the term, said it was the “ability to connect personal troubles to public issues.” Wikepedia elaborates on the meaning and sums it up well: “The sociological imagination is the ability to see things socially and how they interact and influence each other. To have a sociological imagination, a person must be able to pull away from the situation and think from an alternative point of view. It requires us to ‘think ourselves away from our daily routines and look at them anew’. To acquire knowledge, it is important to break free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and put things into a wider context, rather than following a routine. The actions of people are much more important than the acts themselves.”
I had always been pattern-seeking. I looked for the interconnectedness of things in life. Despite this predisposition, I had never considered that my personal problems were not my fault, but were the result of a sick society. I did not understand that the bad behavior of my parents had just been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of human civilization. I began to look at the big picture. The world was ridden with violence, molestation, rape, abuse, political indoctrination, religious indoctrination, authoritarianism, prejudice, unrealistic expectations, etc.
Sociology is the study of society. It looks at groups of individuals and subjects that have to do with groups of individuals to understand the relation of all things: the human family, government, religious institutions, political parties, economics, the scientific community, the healthcare system, history, different countries, race, gender, sexuality, biology, psychology, genetics, etc. When people are put in a similar set of circumstances, more likely than not, their behavior can be predicted and will be similar.
For example, there is an unemployment, drug and alcohol and crime problem in Norwich. In fact, there are unemployment, drug and crime problems in rural areas across the country (of course there are in city areas too but that is a whole other topic—unemployment is actually worse rural areas though). A psychologist or the common consensus might be that it’s a problem with individuals and how they are raising their kids. While there may be some truth to this, let’s look at the bigger picture.
Big businesses that create jobs prefer central locations and outsourcing to other countries, because it helps their profits, so historically they move out of rural areas. People get laid off, get depressed, start using drugs and alcohol to distract themselves from their money troubles and self-worth issues and when they run out of drugs because they become addicted and are still unemployed, they commit crimes. Not to mention, they are more likely to engage in domestic violence or other violent acts because of money troubles, legal problems due to crimes they commit and the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Sociological studies have shown that the more egalitarian, free, and economically prosperous a community is, the less crime, drugs, and family problems there are. You still think it’s more of a personality, moral or individual problem? If you can think of an exception, I can show you the rule.
We should care about others’ well-being and personal liberty because we care about ourselves. When someone else’s rights are taken from them, or they face a personal crisis, your liberties and opportunities for happiness are at stake. It all trickles down from the top, but change is from the bottom up.
This reminds me of a quote:
“When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it, too, seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it.
And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.”
Many of my sociology professors believed that policy or a change in government would be the way to solve the world’s problems. I believe in a different approach. I think free, educated individuals that are socially aware and conscientious of others change the world. Think back to all the great minds throughout history and you will see that they often spoke out against the majority and questioned common knowledge with boldness.
So I ask you… how will you change yourself? Now that you know a little bit more about the subject that is not common knowledge, what will you do with what you have learned? Will you see your personal problems through your “sociological imagination”? Will you have more compassion for yourself and others now you that you know that it was because of social influences that were forced upon you and you had no control over, that you struggled to overcome obstacles that caused you suffering? Will you be more likely to reach out for help now that you know someone else just might understand? Will you offer service to those that reach out for your help because you now better understand?
Question everything, even your own convictions. No one ever changed the world by being dishonest or blind to the truth. Seek truth and love. Be bold and do not lose courage. It is others individuality that makes you an individual, but never forget that we are all human, trying to live, be free and pursue happiness. These are the natural rights of mankind and will never change as long as mankind exists.
“All men are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” –The Declaration of Independence
Copy and paste the following links into your search (browser) bar:
More about the study of sociology:
More about the “sociological imagination”:
More information about unemployment in rural areas: http://www.joe.org/joe/1984september/a5.php
More information about how unemployment puts people at risk for drug and alcohol abuse: http://www.doctoroz.com/blog/george-joseph-lcdc/unemployment-and-addiction-dangerous-mix
More information on how drugs and alcohol influence criminal behavior: http://www.ncadd.org/index.php/for-youth/drugs-and-crime/230-alcohol-drugs-and-crime
Gullup Poll’s information on how to increase your well-being: