Every day we live in a world ticking on its own rhythm taking account of things that we consider normal functions of life in performing daily tasks. We are expected to behave in a certain way according to the perspectives of ourselves and others. From childhood through adulthood, we pass stages of life expecting that significant transitions are yet to come to be experienced in the course of our lives. The language we speak, the values we believe in, and the rules we follow shape us to become a unique individual within the society.
Such uniqueness of individual is defined as self. The self is the distinct sense of who we are that is developed from social interactions with other individuals which can be changed depending on our life experiences. According to American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self theory, a person’s self is shaped by the interaction with the important people around him/her. For example, I believe in Buddhism because my parents have been influential regarding religious aspects and beliefs from the earliest years of my childhood. Going to the temple, chanting Dhamma, listening to Dhamma talk from the Buddhist monks were our family’s outing on the weekends or occasionally other social meetings with people from the mutual society. Now, I think myself as an adult with my own perspective and beliefs, but I still believe in Buddhism and still perform those rituals. I follow Buddhism, not because I did not have an option to choose which religion to believe in, but because those experiences I had in the early years of my life shaped me and planted my belief in Buddhism first, prior to that of other religions. Also, it is because of the powerful influence of my parents, the schools I have gone to where there were occasional religious events held within the school facility and because the majority of friends and relatives have the same religious beliefs. Thus, my parents were significant in developing my beliefs. School, friends and relatives were the agents of socialization that played an important role in shaping the self that I am today. Other common agents of socialization that exist within the society are family, cross-culture variation, the influence of race and gender, peer groups, mass media and technology, religion and the state, the work place and school. This demonstrates the socialization process.
Socialization is a lifelong process that enables us to learn the attitudes, values, and behaviors appropriate for our culture. Noticing the word “lifelong” from the definition, we learn significant amounts from human interaction with others even before we can speak a word. American sociologist George Herbert Mead described the early childhood self-development in three stages:
Preparatory stage (birth – 3 years old)
In this stage, the children are engaged in social interaction with others by imitation. When I was working as a community interpreter for the InghamIntermediateSchool District for Early Childhood Development Program, I had to go for home visits with a parent educator for non-English speaking families from Myanmar. The parent educator would analyze and determine the level of development according to the behavior of children. The use of gestures, objects and eventually words to communicate or the use of symbols to interact with other is the goal of a three year old development. It was amazing to have seen that many children achieved this stage tremendously well even though they were raised in a different culture.
Play stage ( 3 years old – 5 years old)
Children are believed to learn self-development and interaction through pretend play in this stage. It is critical because the children learn to behave in a certain way only when they have experienced the similar experiences such as going to school, going to the doctor for medical checkup or to the dentist or to learn more about how the world works. These types of internalized role taking activities help the children to understand why we do things and how we do things and to have an expectancy of what kind of perspective they should have.
Game stage (6 years old – 9 years old)
This is the final stage where children begin to consider their role and their own position to represent their ‘self’. This is the stage where the child realizes how his/her attitudes and viewpoints are taken into account by the expectations of society as a whole.
As we grow older, constructing and maintaining our self has been far more influenced by others. A Canadian sociologist, Erving Goffman explained a viewpoint called dramaturgical approach where people are seen as theatrical performers. Each individual plays their own role in encountering social interactions. For example, a mom is expected to be responsible of taking care of her children and household, a teacher is expected to teach the students and also to use appropriate manner and behavior to strictly stick to the rules, a student is expected to put learning as his/her priority to have a good career. Mr. Goffman also referred to the methods called impression management and face-work. An example of impression management would be choosing or altering the right kind of clothing to wear to different places such as a dress for party, casual clothes for hanging out with friends. Face-work is initiating behavior that would maintain the image of self to avoid public embarrassment. For example, a college math teacher would not want his/her colleagues to know that he is practicing Hip hop dancing because he thinks this would put an inappropriate sense for his job being a college faculty.