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The effects of social environment on identity are the topics of the growing interest among scholars, theorists, and practitioners. While the character is the fundamental psychological construct, it develops within a specific social context. Numerous social forces influence the direction and patterns of identity development, but the nature of these social forces, as well as the severity of their influences, varies considerably from one person to another.
Under the influence of these forces, a person eventually develops and, at times, changes the set of values, principles, beliefs, and norms he/she wants to follow, to be a member of a specific social group. My life and identity have been shaped by a variety of social forces, which either impeded or facilitated the development of my personality.
While traditional values, schools, and peer groups often became an obstacle to achieving my dreams, social inequality motivated me to pursue my most desired goals, whereas social mobility created the most favorable conditions for improving my status.
Social Forces That Made It Difficult To Achieve My Dreams
Surprisingly or not, traditional values became one of the greatest barriers to the development of my identity. Brym and Lie (2007) describe traditional values as one of the most important conceptual dimensions of contemporary social reality. In their view, individuals who adhere to traditional values believe in the importance of God, do not accept abortions, and hold trust in coercion and obedience, instead of independence and self-determination (Brym & Lie 2007).
Such individuals are expected to respect authority and be proud of their nation (Brym & Lie, 2007). The main reason why traditional values were the barrier to achieving my dreams was that I never fit into the traditional view of personality.
My identity was shaped by the modern values of religious neutrality, determination and independence, and the importance of autonomy in making crucial life decisions, such as abortion. As a result, I faced misunderstanding and had to struggle to prove the importance of my values and viewpoints against the predominantly traditional community, in which I was growing.
Apart from fighting against excessive traditionalism, I faced considerable resistance to growth on the side of my school and peer groups. I can say that the crystallization of my identity went not with but against the morality and principles promoted by the school and the peer groups, to which I was expected to belong. Because I spent most of my time at school, being actively involved in curriculum and extracurricular activities, the school had a fundamental impact on my identity.
Brym and Lie (2007) speak about the way schools impose misbalanced beliefs on students about their career, professional, and job future. In my life, the school and peers created a vision of coercion and misunderstanding. As a result, I started to believe that the whole world was focused on conformity, standardization, coercion, and alienation.
My peers never had any dreams they wanted to achieve. Even if they had, their dreams were only a topic of discussion rather than a motivation to act. I had to overcome their misunderstanding, as I tried to be active in pursuing my goals. I faced alienation and even open hostility, as I sought to be more active, motivated, and successful than my peers.
Social Forces That Facilitated My Growth
It may sound surprising, but social inequality became one of the driving forces behind my identity development and, at the same time, one of the most favorable opportunities for growth. Brym and Lie (2007) describe social inequality in its brightest colors, suggesting that wealth inequality and income inequality go hand in hand.
Growing in the family with a very moderate income, I gradually realized that greater income opened the door to new opportunities, although I never experienced any obvious discrimination because of my social status or the social status of my family.
Being supported by the values of autonomy, self-determination, and self-reliance, I have become a person who is ready to act on new dreams and decisions without looking back at my peers or the social surrounding. My identity was shaped by dramatic inequalities, as I compared myself to my peers and their parents. However, unlike my peers, I always wanted to achieve something considerable or meaningful in life.
Here, special attention should be paid to the concept of social mobility. As I look back into the past, I realize that, without social mobility, social inequality would never help me to achieve my goals. Brym and Lie (2007) cite different theories of social mobility, but I think that the one developed by Blau and Duncan is the most plausible. Blau and Duncan describe social hierarchies as complex systems, in which classes do not have any rigid boundaries (Brym & Lie, 2006).
My identity was shaped by a strong belief that people could not become wealthy overnight. I support the social vision of Blau and Duncan because I perceive identity development and social improvement as a slow and steady process based on hard work and continuous self-improvement. It is social mobility that opens new ways for individuals to pursue challenging goals and improve their social status.
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Here, I certainly mean upward mobility: as a young person, I witnessed numerous people cross the boundaries of their class to become more successful. I use the word “successful” because social mobility is not limited to the growing amount of wealth. As Brym and Lie (2007) put it, social status has many nonmonetary characteristics, such as prestige and power.
Overall, I think that my present-day identity is a complex product of multiple social forces. They are not limited to peer influences, social mobility, or the school environment. These forces emerge or become obsolete, as I move forward to realize my ambitions and strivings. Nevertheless, it is due to the influences of social mobility and postmodern values that I have become what I am now.
Numerous social forces shape our identity. A thorough analysis of such forces is useful for any person. While certain social forces open new opportunities for development, others impede the growth and maturation of one’s personality. In my view, traditional values, schools, and peer groups were the greatest impediment to my identity development. I had to struggle with the values of conformity, standardization, and laziness. I faced alienation and even hostility due to my strivings.
Meanwhile, social inequality and social mobility opened new avenues for self-development and growth. I assumed that I had all the chances to achieve a better social position and realize my dreams. The results of this brief sociological analysis suggest that social mobility has been a crucial force behind the development of my present-day identity. I am happy to be what I am now.
Brym, Robert J. and John Lie. 2007. Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.