Why People Who Study Sociology and Psychology Will Always View People Differently in General
I remember my very first class of Sociology in undergraduate school as if it was yesterday. Nearly a decade ago (and had been studying social sciences as a whole for about a decade prior to restarting undergrad in 2005) and one statement that every single professor I had rings true: You will never perceive people the same way ever again.
It is true. Well, if you take the discipline seriously, that is. There are those who believe social sciences are “soft skills” and “soft academic disciplines” but while they may be labeled as such in the workplace, the social science discipline itself is actually one of the most rigorous, profound, and life-altering of them all. More people should be required to take several courses to the extent that there is a basic common ground that is expected in the social landscape, the same way that mathematics and English (or Spanish) find themselves in the daily parlance. God knows how often people are roundly mocked on social media for their ignorance to the basics of English spelling, grammar, punctuation, etymology and communication in general. Twitter, for instance, is a hotbed for such ignorance. The same goes for mathematics (although the Devil’s Advocate in some people would argue that those who massage statistics in sports without context requires some pretty deft mathematical skills to pull off to the point where said masseuse not only convinces others, but themselves, with their deceptive statistical application).
But I digress.
Understanding the human condition, the human psyche, basic general human tendencies from a 360-degree perspective (most people only have a one-way thought process; i.e. how they perceive others, how a situation affects them, and not a dual mindset, without a single life-altering — or a set of experiences — that molds them into becoming an altruistic person by nature) is just as important as being able to exchange currency and spell properly. Why, then, is there not more of an emphasis placed on requiring such social sciences as part of general requirements in undergraduate school (if not high school?) God knows people who deal with all walks of life for a living (doctors, police officers, attorneys, etc.) should be required to do so, if, for no other reason than to have a baseline idea of how their actions affect others just as much as others’ actions affect theirs (this is of vital and unique relevance to police officers). Maybe that’s just a personal observation having lived in every socioeconomic status and every “class” of neighborhood possible in these 35 years, but it definitely could not hurt.
More to the point, however, is how those professors’ statements (warnings?) turned out to be true. Once you dedicate yourself to studying the social sciences, your vantage point changes forever, and you do not perceive people the same. Psychology focuses more on the individual, but there is still a general perspective to psychology as a discipline on the whole. Sociology is all about the collective human populace; how conditions, paradigm shifts, social phenomena, etc. affect groups of people, or the entire human population, rather than singling out individuals. This is why you rarely (and should honestly never) hear true sociologists use all-inclusive statements when applying generalizations. This is also why the use of absolutes (i.e. “all”, “never”, “always”, “never”) is antithetical to the sociologist’s thinking. This is why people who study the social sciences tend to make out well in becoming attorneys and being trained in the legal discipline. Not always, but often. Personally, this is why I find myself to this day having to preface generative statements by saying that it is not an absolute fact that applies to every single person the same way; meaning there should not be an knee-jerk reaction that states, “Psssht, not ALL of us are that way” (when no such absolute was stated). There will always be people who will internalize a generalization. This is fact, because the human nature is to always assess a situation first by how it affects them, positively or negatively. That’s why the same person who accepts a favorable generalization (when applicable to their lives) will reject and even attack a generalization (even if it does not apply to them at all) and its veracity; they are running the information through their personal filter and determining whether it applies to them, then to determine if the application is positive or negative, and in their minds, that determines the veracity of the generative statement — regardless of how applicably accurate it may be for most others — positively or negatively.
And so it is. The only time I address peoples’ situation on a one to one basis is after I have allowed for them to express to me what their situation is, to begin with. And even then, a lot of that is based just as much on what isn’t said as it is on what I have been told. Some people think they are mysterious and sly by withholding attributes and personal stories, but to the trained mind, what you conceal is much easier to decipher than what you openly express (have a sip of tea).
Personally, I like Bell Curves. They almost (not always) always work when applying generalizations. You (generally) have 60%-80% of the populace unto which the generalization has some relevance or factual application, 10%-15% on both sides of that curve who it may have little to no relevance (or even the absolute opposite is true), and outliers on both ends of the spectrum. This is by no means foolproof — not by a long shot — but it is personally the way that generalizations are applied. In this manner, you do not isolate any one person (with their unique life’s experiences, perspectives and observations on life) and affix any one label from one person to the next. Instead, you apply that person’s collective experiences to the whole and decipher the correlation to the whole (people generally do the opposite, which is why it is so difficult for people to achieve effective communication, engage in civil discourse, etc., without one or both shutting down in anger, or resorting to hurling insults the minute a difference of opinions arises).
There are few other ways to see such bell curves at work than to apply dating/relationship/marriage topics along racial and gender lines. People have their heels well dug in (generally) with their outlook on these matters, and introducing subject matter that does not jive with their thinking is cause for World War III. Too many people suggest that their almost-infinitely minuscule experiences in dating (relative to the collective whole of over 3.8 billion adults in this world) have more importance or veracity than the stated experiences of hundreds of thousands who would disagree. In other words, a few bad experiences in one person’s life has a good chance of marring their perception of any one race or gender of people; and they will argue and fight to the hilt with anyone who disputes such a mentality. You do not need to be a sociologist to understand that such a mindset is flawed, and a recipe for a pretty morose life. Common sense is still pretty common. At least we think.
The funniest application of the aforementioned subject matter is when people who are outliers (and fail to see it) think that their uncommon experiences are the norm, and expect others to share a perspective that they would have no way of forming without the shared experience. For example, someone who was born in the suburbs of a major U.S. city, spent their formative years as an expatriate of a “minority” racial group, and returns to live in a city that is, by nature, a melting pot of races, cultures and belief systems, is not going to have the same experiences or perspectives of someone whose family has lived in the same town, on the same street, for five or six generations, with relatives living in 17 straight houses on a row on one street, with only the most recent two generations ever leaving for college or otherwise. How could you share the same perspective of someone who has been all over the world, when you’ve never been anywhere outside of a 50-mile radius of where you were born. This actually happens. And people actually get into heated disputes when determining someone’s “genuineness” when it comes to self-identification, dating/marriage choices, and so on. There is a lack of duality when it comes to perspectives in a scenario like this, and when one or both sides of the discussion fail to realize it, it can get very ugly. A person well-versed in the social sciences would be more interested in hearing how and what shaped that person into who they are, rather than seeking to force their own personal set of experiences and observations onto someone who could not possibly share them without walking the same path every step of the way. Sometimes you learn to think like this with age, sometimes wisdom is passed down, and then, as can be personally attested, a combination of those and studying the social sciences and really applying them to every area of life, also shapes such a mindset when engaging others.
Those professors weren’t kidding, you never view people the same after studying sociology and psychology. It’s just too bad more people do not.