Taking a sociology class isn’t always a pretty thing. Part of what my discipline does is to help students strip away a bit of the rose-colored glasses society equips us with in order to see the gooey insides. And those gooey insides aren’t always so attractive. In my classes, students learn about poverty, social class inequality, racism, sexism, heterosexism, environmental degradation and just the general myriad of ways in which human beings can hurt one another and the world around them. And then at the end of this process, I ask them, “What can we do?” Perhaps I shouldn’t be dismayed when their answer is often, “Nothing.”
My students, even after having been indoctrinated by a semester of sociology, are still fairly certain that humans are just naturally crappy creatures. Pick your particular form of primordial crappiness; it’s usually something like, “Humans are just naturally selfish.” Or aggressive, or greedy, or violent, or whatever. And since we’re just naturally like that, the world will never really be any better. But knowing even more about how sad and unjust the world is than they do, I still have faith. I have faith because of the things I don’t know and because of the things I believe.
The things I don’t know and the things I believe
Certainly, most human societies appear to have always crapped on some group of people in what are sometimes fairly spectacular ways. Is that inevitable? Will that always happen? How could I possibly know that? A society that makes its very first priority to reduce the suffering we cause each other as much as possible certainly hasn’t existed yet. But I can’t know that it never will.
And here is one of the things I believe–if there is anything that is true about our “nature” as humans, it’s that we very much need each other. Humans show averse effects from extreme social isolation (being deprived of any form of contact) in relatively short periods of time; a few days is all it takes to have real mental effects. Without contact with other people, we can’t even really become human, as the cases of wild children–children raised in conditions with severely limited human contact–demonstrate. When we are unconnected, we are unhappy, and no amount of technology will ever be able to get in the way of what I believe is this fundamental fact.
Calling this a need for love sounds corny in a very British romantic comedy kind of way. But there it is, nonetheless. You can look at the interactions that go on around you and choose to see selfishness and aggression and greed. Or you can choose to look for something else. This year I’m looking for love.
This year I’m looking for my father teaching his granddaughters to play chess, even though sitting on the floor hurts his back and there may not be anything on the planet more mind-numbingly frustrating than trying to teach pre-teen girls how to play chess. This year, I’m looking for the way my one year old nephew reaches up to be held by his grandma. This year, I’m looking for all the quick touches and hidden looks between couples. This year I’m looking for all the times my daughter graciously says it’s alright when things don’t turn out exactly the way she’d like. This year. I’m looking for the moments when my husband says, “You’re right,” and moves on. This year, I’m looking for small acts of mercy and grace and, okay, yes, love. I would like to say that this year I will see them all, but the truth is that there are simply too many. So this year I will try to see as many as I can. What will you be looking to see more of this year?
Happy New Year’s!