When I explain my life to people, the immediately respond with how sorry they and offer words of encouragement. It is hard to explain to people that no matter how hard I have had it that part of my being able to survive was to turn those negative experiences into something positive. I have had many chances in life that may have appeared as barriers initially. Action is human behavior to which the acting individual attaches subjective meaning. It is not always easy and the challenges keep coming, no matter how hard I try to leave them behind.
Whatever advantages or disadvantages parents have, they pass these along to their children, in all societies. (Beeghley, 2008) On the positive spectrum, as a small child, I had the opportunity to experience real, unconditional love from my Grandparents. They were married for over 50 years and all of the grandkids had the goal to have relationship comparable to theirs. From their influence, I was able to see the positive aspect of a relationship. I learned how a man and woman can get along and love each other, through the good and bad times. I saw a woman who respected and supported her husband and he responded with an equal amount of care. Years I watched the two of them live their many years as lovers, but above all, best friends.
While I have been able to find a somewhat comparable relationship to what I witnessed as a child, it was not an easy goal to obtain. Yet, also not permanent. Idealizing their relationship also resulted in failed relationships and two divorces. I tried very hard to be just like my Granny, seeking the same response out of a partner that I saw she had. It never seemed to happen that way. In some ways, you could say that my idealization of a perfect relationship also had negative impact in my life, as I was unable to see someone for who they were and chose to focus on who I thought they should be.
There are other aspects of my childhood that resulted in barriers to my life chances. I was victim to childhood sexual assault and come from a financially disadvantaged family. Both of these made me learn at a young age that I was considered a statistic. No matter what barrier I attempted to defeat to ensure my own mobility, as soon as anyone heard of my past, I was categorized and expected to act like the majority of others who had similar experiences.
The day I went to pre-marital counseling with my first husband, I provided information about the abuse I survived as a child to the pastor. He said he was obligated to communicate to my fiancé that due to the abuse I experienced, that I was very likely to abuse my our children. That was just one of the actions or responses I received over the years that was symbolic the belief that a number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances (Gerth & Mills, 1946) and are consequently labeled according to the actions of the majority.
These stereo-types and labels did not stop me though. They made me try even harder. I continued to do what I had to do to survive and work towards social mobility for myself and my children. I have had to change my mindset to view the many challenges as opportunities. This has worked in my favor in some aspects. Other times it hasn’t but regardless, there is always a lesson. The way I think about the circumstance reflects Weber’s belief that life chances are subjective and what a person thinks about their situation will determine their actions. (Elwell, 2014)
Along with changing my cognitive behaviors, I have learned the value of education and the potential consequences for choosing what is viewed as a positive life chance. The expansion of one’s knowledge to something not consistent with your family group may cause conflict. Many first-generation college students report having little support, discouragement and relationship strain from their families. (Billson & Terry, 1982)
I am no exception to this. Any excitement I shared with my family regarding my educational accomplishments has distanced me from my siblings and parents. Rather than sharing in my accomplishments, they have shunned me and accused me of being arrogant and ungodly.
Religion has been one area in life that I have had uncountable challenges. While some view religion as something positive, I have viewed it as negative. The many attempts that I had in adhering to a dogmatic faith, I found it detrimental to my goals. If I were to follow the religious beliefs of my family, I would not be concerned with this world. I would let everything go and give it to God, for Him to handle.
There are many things I have accomplished that would not have happened, had I sat idly by and waited for a miracle to happen. Several times in my life I was told by family members that I am too, “passionate,” and that I needed to learn not to question things and just let God handle it. I had to believe the ability was within me, not outside of me. This resulted in choosing to disregard my childhood religious teachings of conformity and letting go. The last time I heard this was during the most recent conflict with an ex-employer.
In January 2012, I was working for a large international electronics company. In a world that is so focused on zweckrational and traditional motivation, (Elwell, 2014) it is hard to be a person that is more wertrational and affectively motivated. This was evident in this position. I was asked to complete documents to allow a shipment of used laptops to be loaded for export on passenger aircraft. Knowing the regulations, I saw the shipment and questioned the packaging. These contained lithium batteries which can cause fires, if not packaged properly. I took this to my manager. He told me to not question his authority and to complete the shipment. I refused.
A long story short, the motivation behind my decision was wertrational. I would be violating my values to allow the shipment to leave and risk causing harm to individuals. His response was initially traditionally motivated, as he said, “we have always done it like this and there has not been an issue, so there is no reason to change.” There was also mention of it costing too much to change the packing and the method was the most efficient, so this pointed to zweckrational motivation to attain the revenue goal.
Although the efficiency was a false idea when I presented the facts that the means was not worth the risk, there was still dissent. This has been a recurring barrier over the last four years of my career. Similar experiences have happened since this one and each time, I am faced with my motivation and the meaning I attach to my actions conflicting with those of my employer(s).
One of the most controversial figures in history said, “It is a thousand times more difficult to overcome this barrier of instinctive aversion, emotional hatred and preventive dissent than to correct opinions which are founded on defective or erroneous knowledge.” (Hitler, 1939) You could say that my experience reflects this perfectly.
I wonder if these institutions really see what they are requiring of individuals to advance. Maybe Lasch was in fact right about major institutions eroding the competence and independence of social groups. (Lasch, 1979) To ensure their strategy is fulfilled, I would have to act in opposition to the values I am attempting to instill in my kids. I still can’t find it within myself to make decisions based on the same motivators I have seen to be the norm in the institutions I have been a part of. This is still ingrained even after losing my most recent job to these factors a week ago.
Decisions will need to be made soon that will determine what role these experiences play in my life chances. Ensuring the financial security for my family to continue the upward path will be contingent upon the completion of my education (which I will not be able to afford after this semester), finding a company that attaches the same meaning to their actions as I do, and/or determine if my own integrity should be sacrificed to an employer, to ensure the future mobility of my kids.
Beeghley, L. (2008). The Structure of Social Stratification in the United States (5th ed.). Pearson Education.
Billson, J., & Terry, M. (1982). In search of the Silken Purse: Factors in attrition among first-generation college students. College and University, 57-55.
Elwell, F. (2014, 10 09). Verstehen: The Sociology of Max Weber. Retrieved from http://www.rsu.edu: http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Weber/SocOfWeber.htm
Gerth, H., & Mills, W. (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hitler, A. (1939). Mein Kampf. (J. Murphy, Trans.) London: Hurst and Blackett LTD.
Lasch, C. (1979). The Culture of Narcissism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.