It has long been axiomatic among most people, at least, that human beings are sociopolitical beings. This is not to say that every human being embraces being part of larger society, or that we are always well served by the influence that other people have on us, but rather that human beings are in fact embedded within networks of relationships that influence us and that allow us to have influence on other people. We arrive on this earth as part of families and instantly have certain identities related to physical origin as well as sex and class, and by virtue of our own merits and attainments we obtain other identities based on education, profession, where we live, who we socialize with and how, religious beliefs and practices, and the like. Beyond what we identify with, we are influenced as well by how we spend our time, what activities we engage in, what art and culture we engage with, and so on.
All of these matters complicate how it is that we engage with the larger societies and cultures in which we are a part. Even those things we may not engage with directly may influence us indirectly because of the way in which they influence other people around us. Yesterday, for example, I was part of a lengthy and spirited discussion relating to the issue of taking God’s name in vain in terms of verbal communication, the way it is often viewed most commonly in those circles in which I am a part (about which I will have more to say in a future post). Included in that discussion was a particular three letter acronym for a three-word turn and the way that it has become rather ubiquitous on billboards and the like. Here we have a case where an expression that was used earlier on in a pretty terrible song became more and more general to the extent where few people think that they are dishonoring God by flippantly using it as an expression of shock or wonder or irony.
One of the aspects that makes societal influence upon us so insidious and so troublesome is that we often do not think sufficiently about it. It is easy to pick up on words and expressions and behaviors that are in existence around us, and it is frankly somewhat wearisome to be continually in opposition to what is going on around us. If we find ourselves in such a position, it becomes of great importance to find within a hostile larger society a smaller and more congenial counterculture in which to be a part so that we may feel free to be ourselves without fear of exterior hostility. To a great extent we can only be truly ourselves with people who approve of who we are and with whom we have a genuine relationship of love and respect. And to whatever extent that we seek out such communities in which to be a part of in which we may be ourselves freely and openly without fear of censure and disapproval, we are consciously shaping the societies to which we belong, for our own interests and well-being.
As human beings we long to be known and cared for as we are, but we often wisely lack trust in the goodness of the larger world in which we are a part. To the extent that we are hostile or critical to those larger societies in which we are a part of not by our own choice but by virtue of where and when we happen to live, we need to be aware of the complexity of our interactions with that culture, and the way that we may be shaped not only directly by the practices of those around us but also by the way in which those practices are then adopted uncritically by others who may not be aware of the origins of those behaviors. I myself have found myself adopting expressions without being sufficiently aware of where those come from, only to find that it meant something that I did not wish to express. Such is the way that life goes, though.