In this paper, I aim to review and examine my personality and my experiences from a sociological perspective in order to understand how they have influenced my view of others.
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Sociology sees society from three different perspectives that, together, become a broader view that sees every aspect of our life in a particular way. While I used to see our society from the interactional point of view, I believe now that, in many ways, it relies on functionalism and conflict. I would like to stress the importance of functionalism in society because social functions are something we often use but rarely become aware of. Without social institutions, any society would have transformed into a chaotic field where different actors interact only to support their own interests. I also realized that society without social institutions can often emerge when there is a war, and society’s values and culture are no longer in any equilibrium.
It does not mean, however, that there is no conflict or interaction among members of the society. To me, these are just different levels of society, which are also engaged in our life. Societal conflicts are those issues that are currently discussed by the media. As it can be seen, their influence on an individual’s life should not be underestimated: gender and race differences have led to many conflicts of interest, often resulting in crime and humiliation. It also seems that conflict theory is often perceived as a minor problem, while it is globally widespread both in the third and first-world countries. As for me, this theory has become a clear explanation of why inequality and poverty still exist, although we have enough resources to solve this problem. Unfortunately, many modern societies are built on conflicts that scarcely support those in need.
The impact of society on my personal identity was unclear to me because I used to assume that personality and habits are more important than outside influences. However, I see now how habits and preferences can be formed by the society you live in. A simple example of it is the differences in pace speed between someone who lives in New York and someone who lives in a rural town in the American South.
Many of my habits and even wishes were shaped by the society I live in, my friends and family. However, I can also notice if someone close to me has borrowed “my” words or phrases I often use in conversations. I have experienced this several times, especially with new friends: when you get closer, you start to notice that they copy your behavior in some ways, and you copy theirs.
What is more, I also realized how important the self-concept is, and how easily society can influence it. I see myself as a friendly person, but once somebody told me that one of my acquaintances saw me as a person difficult to approach. I did not pay much attention to this observance, but several days later, I caught myself analyzing every conversation that I have had with this person to understand why it was difficult for them to talk to me freely. During this self-analysis, I remembered a couple of awkward conversations that could have had an adverse impact on my friends and acquaintances. Thus, although most of the people close to me would not agree with this statement, this person had the ability to show me my “other side” that I refused to see or acknowledge.
Social interactions are an everyday part of our life; without them, humanity would not be able to achieve even the simplest goals. However, the hierarchy of social interactions is something that has influenced my perception of family and friends. The facts that social interactions are shaped by specific rules that rely on a hierarchy were a new thought to me, although I have always recognized the frameworks and patterns that different social interactions require to function. What is more, I also realized that differences in social interactions could be blurred, for example, when you interact with your parents as you would with your friends. Although not common for every family, this approach is often used to support healthy relationships between family members.
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The social hierarchy also exists among friends. For example, some of my friends can tolerate speaking about politics but refuse to talk about religion. Other friends, however, are more open to such discussions. Here, a type of social hierarchy is created: certain topics are tabooed by one group of social interaction agents but supported by the other.
The symbols used in social interaction are also of absolute importance. Without them, many of the social interactions we lead become meaningless; furthermore, symbols used in social interactions are also defined by the culture we live in. This implies that some of the symbols can have multiple meanings in different cultures. That is why friendships with members of other cultures can be enriching: they provide me with new perspectives on symbols and their interpretations.
The differences in schooling and education are significant among countries, cultures, and societies. It should also be remembered that approaches to education can differ even in American states. Depending on the society we live in, its values, and beliefs, the educational system also aims to shape us as a member of this society who will support the ideas that circulate in it. Different sociologists have studied the American education system and schooling. As they have accurately found out, this system is built on competitiveness and individualism – virtues highly valued in American society. Nevertheless, I would also like to point out that, although American education is focused on an individual, American society also sees community as an essential and important part of it. That is why I often contemplate the individualism in American society that is so highly valued. The well-being of a social group, i.e. the community, is also seen as one of the goals of American individuals. That is why I believe that American society is not as individualistic as some sociologists claim.
Social placement that education guarantees are another topic I find controversial because this social placement is not always fair. Although education implies those who are most competent and successful will be rewarded, it does not view the inability to compete as a set of factors that a person sometimes cannot change. This, in return, leads to a conflict of interest. While some of the students who have more resources and abilities to be educated strive for better education, others cannot compete with them, which leads to inequality based on the wrong balance of resources. Thus, I see American education as a social system that does not always function correctly.
Media and Technology
The influence of media on society is evident: in the era of instant news, everyday breakthroughs, sensations, and momentary trends, opinions and beliefs are shaped by what we see in the media. Today, it is difficult to understand whether society influences media more or vice versa. However, this change in relationships between a person and information would not be possible if the digital revolution never happened.
Every movie, book and TV show we see have a direct impact on our perception of the world. Although these may contain positive messages, they are often built on stereotypes and clichés. Nevertheless, if one compares movies from the 1990s to those filmed in the 2010s, it will be clear how different those societies were, what dreams and aims they promoted, and how they depicted other societies. In my opinion, the level of awareness of technology’s impact on our life is rising, but it would be unreasonable to abandon it. Instead, society should focus on technology as a tool of mass education, power, social change, and equality. Although the issue with big data collection and surveillance is an alarming one, I am convinced that the potential of new media is in its ability to spread news and information incredibly fast, engaging millions in possible social changes. As any power tools, media and technology are capable of substantially improving our society, as well as dividing it. One should not forget that media (i.e. games, films, YouTube podcasts, etc.) also promote violence and fake news, which eventually harms other people, their life and self-perception (for example, see the recent scandal with the YouTube blogger PewDiePie).
The influence of religion cannot be underestimated because, in many ways, it forms our life and our relationships with others and with the world. I see religion both as a powerful tool that can enrich one’s life and a tool that can divide societies apart. Although scientific thinking and approach grow stronger every day, and science has found answers to questions that were regarded as religious before, it is unlikely that the importance of religion will decrease in the next several decades. Religion can serve as a supporting force or belief that helps one acknowledge the world’s imperfection and understand what one can do to make this world a better place.
Religion can be a fundamental part of human society, and many of its rules and traditions are often deeply rooted in the religion or are even acknowledged at the national level. Religion has the power to shape one’s morals and ethics, provide a basis for spiritual life that also influences private life.
At the same time, I do agree with the sociologic point of view that individuals experience the need for a fair and ordered world and that religion is capable of providing such a belief to those who need it. In this case, religion can be seen as a part of an individual’s beliefs that influence one’s perception of their quality of life. In a secular society, religion can be of utter importance to those who do not agree to abandon their faith in God. Moreover, this belief can also bind different people from various social groups that share the same religion.
I see that religion loses its power in some of the areas in society that is used to regulate, such as births, marriages, deaths, etc. As our society becomes more modern, it seeks other tools that can operate the world we live in. It is not surprising and quite comprehensive; however, I would not agree with the statement that religious influence will entirely cease one day. Since many of our moral beliefs are based on religion, they will also continue to exist in the future, even if there is no religion at all.
Gender and Social Class
Although I noticed some gender roles when I was a child, it did not occur to me how important they were until high school. The cultural acceptance of your gender role is seen as one of the most basic needs when you are a child, or even in your teenage years, although you try to be different in everything else. The fear of rejection, as it seems to me, is a concept that is tightly bound to gender roles. Thus, we are being taught to behave in one way or another according to our gender roles, and we transfer these expectations to everyone else – our friends, lovers, children, etc. That is why the first encounter with reversed gender roles can be so confusing and even embarrassing; this trick is often used in comedies when we are introduced to a man who is wearing a dress, and we are expected to see it as funny because it goes beyond our understanding of gender norms. Nevertheless, as I grew older, I saw that gender role had a direct impact on one’s life. Today, the existing inequalities are often discussed but are not resolved.
Gender roles and gender differences are also linked to the issue of social class, where particular groups of people earn more than others. It is hardly surprising that there are fewer female representatives of the upper class than there are of the lower. The same can be said about ethnic and sexual minorities. Often, but not always, gender roles define which of the classes an individual will belong. We as members of society need to examine the impact of gender roles more carefully to understand how these issues can be resolved.
The one thing that is very prominent in American society is its attention and approach towards the history of the USA. History defines American society in many aspects, and history is often addressed by members of this society to understand or examine certain issues. The problem of religion, race, gender, power, influence, and individualism is seen as sensitive and sometimes even controversial ones; however, without them, American society would not be as diverse as it is. Although many claims that freedom and liberty are essential virtues, I often notice that freedom is limited in many ways in American society, although not always consciously or with an evil intention. Instead, just as any other society, Americans need to work on the issue of freedom to ensure that it is available to anyone, and not only to those who have enough recourses and power to exploit their freedom and freedom of others. I also believe that although American society can be seen as individualistic, it highly values interrelationships and support within groups or society.