In the past four years, I have slowly understood what it means to be a Sociology/Anthropology (SOAN) major. It hasn’t always been easy and there are things I am still woefully unsure about. However, this major has contributed so much to my heart, mind, and soul. It is an identity I gladly embody. Here are five of the most important things I have learned as a SOAN major. You will notice, as a good SOAN major, I have included some examples to support my claims (this is mainly for Tom!):
People won’t always “get” you, and that’s okay
It seems the common “curse” of being a SOAN major is the constant criticism, misunderstanding, and labeling we are subjected to. I sometimes wonder if the great founders of Sociology and Anthropology were also victims of the relatives, friends, and citizens who rolled their eyes at the mention of social constructions and corrupt systems. I, for one, have had my fair share of snide remarks about my major. There will always be people who will label you as the radical, hippie socialist who will never get a job. But, as my dad always says, people are entitled to their opinions, no matter how wrong they are. However, it is not these comments that agitate me the most. Instead, it is the people who I see as part of the problem. Whether they are people who don’t believe in feminism or who want to slowly fade out the social sciences. As a SOAN major, I have learned to accept that these people will not always understand my ideas. But I can still act and strive to be heard. Perhaps changing systems requires one to lead by example, rather than by words (even though Marx had some wicked theories).
Judging will get you nowhere
I have spent my entire college career learning about the complexities behind people’s actions and choices. From drug addicts to murderers and from revolutionists to polygamists, I have studied people carefully. While I will never fully understand groups, cultures, or individuals, I have learned that there is always more depth than we grant them. Each and every person, group, and culture is composed of a “thick description,” as Clifford Geertz would say, and it is vitally important that one explores that description. Once one does that, it becomes very difficult to label that person, group, or culture as one particular thing. You learn that we are all a part of complex systems, structures, and webs that make up who we are and explain our relationships to the world. Making uninformed judgments is not only bad practice, but it will also not lead you to helpful conclusions about the world.
For example: Making a snide comment about that eccentric person at the shopping mall will bring nothing but joy to your own ego. Your judgment will bring you nowhere near understanding why that person is choosing to act in that way and will instead bring you closer to making a blanket statement about humans like “them.” This will only serve to restrict your view of the world and your capacity to foster acceptance and compassion.
It is essential to embrace the grey
All around me I see people desperately trying to make sense of things through categorization. “This person thinks this, thus, they are bad.” SOAN has taught me that those types of distinctions are almost never the case. In fact, almost everything we try to make sense of is muddled, complex, and incredibly frustrating. I’ve learned that almost nothing is black or white. It is all grey. When I first discovered this, I had the hardest time accepting it. I thought that accepting greyness was a justification for injustice, indecisiveness, and moral indifference. But what I’ve found is that embracing this greyness actually allows me to better understand complex problems facing society. It prevents me from placing people in boxes and forces me to see the interconnectedness of everything. It requires me to answer the question of how defining one person will ultimately define others. I have learned to take solace in knowing that all aspects and decisions of my life are grey, which has actually made my life much less stressful.
For example: We cannot ignore Trump supporters and claim that they are just a bunch of ignorant and racist people. They are not easily one thing. They believe what they do for a reason, and that reason must be carefully explored in order to unearth the origins and production of their mentality. We must look into the grey of their beliefs.
The “You” must learn to bend
The SOAN major asks one to use everything within oneself, in order to empty oneself for others. In other words, the self one has always identified as, will not only be critically challenged, but will most likely result in the belief in a minimized self. When I first started learning about how my environment was socially constructed, I was struck with a disorienting relationship to reality. The things I had defined myself with were not truths within themselves, but rather relative to my culture, race, gender, class, etc. I then began to rebuild my sense of self through the pursuit of new truths. I believe I will be on this quest for the rest of my life. Yet, I have discovered a few things along the way. The self I am after is only meaningful when placed in the context of we. My destiny is interwoven with the destinies of others, and the more I realize this, the less important it is for me to find my own “self.” I have found that meaning lies in the humble presence of humanity that I do not lead, but joyfully participate in.
Hope is as essential as criticism
My education can be summed up as a study of why the world is incredibly screwed up. Almost every day the majority of my time has been spent on studying horrific societal realities, broken systems, sweeping oppression, and systematic inequality. I have definitely gained a massive amount of resilience through this practice. Although it is always heartbreaking, studying these things is not futile. It brings me one step closer to understanding how to fix these problems and prevent them in the future. However, this is only possible if one harbors hope. I believe one’s sense of hope must rival one’s despondency with the world’s injustices. While humans find themselves amidst war, famine, enslavement and poverty, humanity is also found amidst the quiet parties who choose not to ignore the abuse they see. I believe that as a SOAN major, I have chosen to take on the responsibility of fostering hope. Not the idealistic and optimistic hope that can be seen decoratively written on a boutique charm, but rather the kind of necessary hope that must be worn as armor in the battlefield of true awareness. It is my responsibility to meet my heartbreak with hope, to find solution in the criticisms, to provide love when presented with hate, and say in the name of all that is wrong “There will be a better tomorrow.”