With life, there’s how things are then what we make of them – what we think and feel; the picture of the human being that’s emerging from social structures and relationships; how we adjust to those often-flawed realities; and what we offer by way of our responses.
Essentially, to my eyes, societies are these embodiments of certain ideas or patterns of thought. Arising from that, Western society is what it is: this quite specific understanding of life, the value of our lives, and the activities needed to sustain a human community. It’s the principles, values, priorities, and structures put in place that’ve been working themselves out over the years alongside our evolving humanity.
It’s just ideas, then the practical realities engendered by them through the worlds of politics, law, social systems, and the like. This project whereby the finest or most persuasive minds of their time have shaped, reshaped, and projected their views onto the collective endeavour of people co-existing for mutual benefit and support (see Notes One).
Over time, of course, that might’ve drifted, speeding up quite dramatically with the adoption of technology, veering this way or that through the powerful freedom of market forces; until, at times, it can seem a contorted echo of what were presumably quite fine ideals.
Which, again, is what it is: often in life we walk into situations and attempt to make the best of them, drawing on our understanding of what things mean and what matters most within all we find around us. Education hopefully prepares us to see rightly and act freely; the media hopefully keeps us abreast of necessary insights; life itself hopefully doesn’t distract us too greatly from what’s fundamental to the whole project (Notes Two).
And then we each emerge into these realities, touching upon them in different ways, and learning lessons about how we’re valued and the expectations others have for us. If society is embodied ideas, we’re effectively discovering those ideas through our encounters within it.
We learn how others see us, the judgements or assessments they might make based on their own values, understanding or priorities. We learn how society’s set up, the opportunities we’re offered, the values currently in evidence through economic or cultural realities. We learn how people are relating to one another, the level of honesty or manipulation at play, and what’s considered acceptable there.
In all these ways, we’re trying to find that place within society where we feel free, capable, appreciated, recognised for who we truly are, and able to be ourselves without fear of attack, rejection, or coercion (Notes Three). We all have something valuable to offer, and hopefully society is adaptable enough to make space for all those who fall within its parameters.
Hopefully life within society makes sense and honours the valuable presence and contribution of all its members. If not, I’d imagine people will struggle, both inwardly and outwardly, to make peace with and find places of belonging within a community that perhaps doesn’t value us rightly?
Notes and References:
Note 1: The conversation of society
Note 1: Human nature and community life
Note 2: What we know to pass on
Note 2: Writings on Education
Note 2: Value in being informed
Note 2: Freedom, what to lean on & who to believe
Note 2: Desensitised to all we’re told?
Note 3: Complexity of life
Note 3: How we feel about society
Note 3: The philosopher stance