Everyone is influenced by society and it makes its indelible mark on us

Everyone is influenced by society and it makes its indelible mark on us


( Social and Personal Identity: Understanding
Yourself Book by Derek Layder) Self in society and society in self No one can stand apart from the social world. Everyone is influenced by society and it makes
its indelible mark on us. It’s a great error to think that there is
no such thing as society or that we are separate, self-sufficient individuals. Everyone is influenced by family, friends,
education, ethnicity, work, class, gender, politics and history. At every point in our lives we both rely on,
and contribute to our social environment. On the one hand, we can never be ‘outside’
society and its tentacles, but on the other we (our behaviour thoughts and feelings) are
not simply formed or determined by society. We have a unique ‘inner’ self which chooses
what to do and how to do it. Often, these two ideas
that we are ‘inside’ society at the same time as standing ‘apart from it’
are thought to be incompatible. But this is not true. They are not only compatible, but go together
naturally in social life. Although we can never stand completely apart
from society, we nevertheless retain a certain amount of independence from it. We are able to choose how we behave towards
others in ways that are, for us ‘appropriate’ and that satisfy our own needs, wishes and
desires. Society can only present us with a set of
choices, it can never completely determine for us which choices we actually adopt. Of course, social pressures, to conform, or
fit in with established patterns of behaviour always constrain us to some extent (this varies
according to different issues and situations). However, there is always a private, personal
space in which we are free to choose for ourselves and to be self-responsible, if we so wish. In this sense
we carry around in our heads whole chunks of society’s influence, in the form of rules,
regulations, laws, fashion, advertising images, expectations about how others will behave
towards us and so on. These inevitably inform our choices and decisions,
but we are free to make up our own minds about whether they are applicable or relevant to
us and the situations in which we find ourselves. Very often, we simply use these as guidelines
and invent our own ‘versions’ of them. This is because of two characteristics. First, we are self-directing beings capable of independent
thought and behaviour. We have the knowledge and skills that allow
us to deal with other people and situations in our own terms. We are not completely trapped by our circumstances
unless we wish to be, or if we refuse to fight against them. We may be ‘trapped’ in poverty,
but we can choose how we will respond to it, either by resigned acceptance, or by a fierce
determination not to be a victim. In the end, we may only be able to transform
‘our situation’ a tiny bit. This may simply amount to being satisfied
with the fact that we’ve made an effort, rather than feeling defeated or resentful
because we couldn’t do more. Alternatively, the change we are able to make
may be a minor way of making our lives, or our neighbours lives, a little more comfortable. Nevertheless, ‘minor’ change, is change! Second, we are all unique individuals because we have
all had a unique set of experiences. Even if you were brought up in the same family,
you experience the world in different ways than your brothers or sisters. Their disappointments or their joys were never
exactly the same as yours. The way you responded to important events
was different from theirs. We each experience a unique configuration
of events, turning points, as well as the feelings and behavioural responses which accompany
them, as we develop through childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Our unique experiences, have made us into
unique persons with our distinct personalities and abilities, our particular behavioural
styles, our diverse moods and sensitivities. We each have our own distinctive ways of reacting
to events, or of relating to people. Both these characteristics then, ensure that
we are never simply at the mercy of social forces. At the same time, we ourselves are never completely
free from social influences. We are always making choices with regard to
the social circumstances in which we find ourselves. Our private space or personal ‘bubble’
is forever fenced in by the limits of our social environment. So we exist inside society while society resides
inside us, our brains, our memories and our experiences. Society though, is always in part ‘outside’
us at the same time. Our relationships with our friends, family
and work colleagues, impersonal government bureaucracies, stretch away from, and beyond
us as individuals. Similarly, social organizations and institutions
in a wider sense, have a ‘life of their own’ independent of any one of us as individuals. Just as we as individuals have a personal
space which we defend from the intrusions of society and its influence. The fact that we have a foot in both psychological
reality and social reality is reflected in the tension between what I refer to as the
duality of separateness and relatedness. The self is always caught up in some aspect
of this tension between having a life ‘apart’ from others
and being involved with and dependent on others. It is difficult for us as individuals to come
to a satisfactory resolution of this problem, since every time we express a desire to be
alone, or have some space of our own, we are automatically
rejecting the idea of togetherness and involvement. Conversely, when we commit to others, in some
part, we surrender our autonomy and independence. Nevertheless, this duality persists in many
forms in social life and I shall have occasion to describe the diferent ways in which it
affects the self. In this sense the fact that we exist in both
psychological and social reality, is a mirror image of the tension between our existence
as separate individuals, and the fact that we cannot exist outside
the encompassing envelope of society and social relations.

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