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The Social Construct

 

The idea that we create our own worlds, or choose our own lives, has been overplayed. Americans believe so deeply in independence and individualism that we don’t want to admit that we are dependent on anyone else, even for the way we perceive the world we live in. But our reality is a social construct. We create it piece by piece through the stories we tell, the media we take in, and the institutions we live by, and many of those things are out of our control.

026

“Nothing is out of my control, Mommy!”

Somewhere along the way, our visions of the world we live in have become divided and foreign to one another. We can live in the same town and yet live in different worlds, with supermarkets and power lines in common, morning traffic jams and planes flying too low overhead, but otherwise, nothing is the same for us. It has reached a point where there is almost no common language among any two people. It is all negotiation of reality, in every interaction. It’s not just about having different religious beliefs, or opinions about politics, it’s almost as if the atmosphere, the oxygen content of the air, changes from person to person, on the same block.

I feel like I move between shimmering, mostly invisible, variations of the world all day long. I can’t keep track of how my point of view changes during the day, until I realize that the world I think I am living in at Five PM is nothing like one I thought I woke up to at Seven AM, when Butterfly licked my elbow and then barked at me when I refused to get up. Part of it comes from me and how I feel, physically and emotionally. The world can seem like a more brutal place when I am in physical pain, no matter what’s going on around me. But part of it comes from the people around me and what they assume about the world we share.

012

“It’s not dark outside, Mommy. It’s time to pee.”

Do we believe that racism is a bad thing, or an obsolete thing, or okay the way it is? Are people allowed to be gay today? Or is it suddenly wrong again? Part of my confusion comes from relying so heavily on the people around me to tell me who we are and how the world is, and not feeling safe enough just to go with my own perspective. I rely on the news media, and Facebook, and TV shows, to help me figure out which world I am living in, and who’s in it with me, so when they mislead me or just get it wrong, I’m in trouble.

I am jealous of people who are able to hold on to their own vision of reality no matter what changes around them. Cricket and Butterfly are great at this, ignoring the news and the anxiety in the air in favor of their predicable daily schedules. For me, it feels like the world is always moving under my feet, like I’m on one of those treadmill-like walkways at the airport, so that even when I stand still and remain the same, the world refuses to remain the same around me.

029

Cricket and Butterfly always know what’s important.

Even now, I admire the unmitigated gall of a sentence like, We hold these truths to be self-evident. We do? Self-evident? I could never have cobbled together that sentence, not in a thousand drafts. I would have had trouble imagining that I could speak for everyone, or believing that everyone might agree on any one thing. It has become clear over this past year, but also long before that, that truths are not as universally accepted as people would like to believe.

The problem is, no matter what we believe or see or recognize about the world we live in, we are all still living in it. Every day we make big and small decisions. We don’t have endless choices; but then again, the world is not given to us whole and complete either, we help form it, tiny piece by tiny piece: when we stand up against a bully, or stay silent; when we work harder, instead of giving up, because the goal is worth it to us; when we choose to stay home on Election Day, because there are only two choices and we don’t love either one. That’s a choice we’ve made, even if there are others who limited our choices in the first place, or rigged the system, or disappointed us. We can blame other people for the outcome, and we may be right in large part, except, we made our own choices too, and those choices counted, and they helped to create the world we live in today. You matter. I matter. We create this world together every day. And we can do better. Right?

010

“Are you asking us?”

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

85 responses »

  1. Excellently written Rachel

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  2. All dogs need is their people, their food and water bowls, a few toys and their leash and of course kibble. Other than that everything else is gravy. Amazing lives they lead.

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  3. Such an interesting perspective Rachel. I do not rely on social media for news or input, strictly entertainment, foolish I know as it is true one cannot lie on the internet :). I was pleased to find that google is dropping adv. support for social media posting opinions as “news”, this was rampant during the presidential race. I want to be like Cricket and Butterfly and not be able to read but go on instinct instead! ❤

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  4. I entered university as a mature aged student. One landmark text I read during my Honours year was “The Social Construction of Reality” by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. This book presents knowledge as an ideology. The book was written in 1966 but is relevant today and should be on the reading list of the inquiring mind. When I read this book, it changed my life and the manner in which I viewed the world. Everything we see, hear and touch is a social construction within a particular ideology. This is why I appreciate the many animals that coexist in our household. They live within the human social construction of reality, yet they live within their own worlds where the next meal and a loving pat is paramount within their universe. For this reason, I cannot imagine living my life without animals. They teach us “civilised” humans so much in reality.

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  5. Everyone matters yet we can’t ‘fix’ everything. Thankful for constants in furry friends!

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  6. Very well-written! It is hard to find our place in a world where changing our views, or having differing views from those around us is deemed largely unacceptable. Like you, I feel as reality shifts from time to time. It does help to avoid all the “news” on social media. I would venture to say that at least 75% of the memes have inaccurate information, yet people share it anyway, if it feeds their beliefs.

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  7. We have certainly become the generation of ‘blame’, as if somehow, if we choose to stay home on election day, and not vote, choices will not be made. The fact is: the decision is made whether or not we decide. What we cannot do is blame others for their selection when we chose not to participate…

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  8. Insightful, as always. Thank you.

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  9. Hi Rachel, I like how you are open enough to ask tough questions.

    For myself, after experiencing an unfiltered revelation of who God really is, personally, Matthew 24:35, ‘Heaven and Earth will pass away but my words will never pass away’ became for me, like many others, the ‘self evident truth’ that most of your country’s founders also knew.

    From the beginning of time, no matter whatever or however social constructs come and go, at any point in history, God’s words are an unchanging foundation we can trust for our lives and communities.

    Ask, seek, find, is still relevant and open to all, dare you try it. God Bless.

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  10. so well written- I feel adrift but always know in the end the answer is be kind

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  11. Hi Rachel, I’ve nominated you for the inaugural Treasure Trove Award! There are no rules or tasks involved. You can find your award here: https://danicapiche.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/treasure-trove-award/
    If you prefer not to be involved with awards, please accept this as a gesture of my appreciation.

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  12. Wow! Thank you. You should submit this to the NY Times Opinionator online column.

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  13. Brilliant, I think. Just need to keep aware enough of what’s apparently going on the the larger world so as to vote and speak up for things we believe in, lest the autocratically minded think people are complacent. Look for the common ground under those power lines and in the supermarket lines… We can still surprise one another in good ways.

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  14. “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”* as Betrand Russell once said. I love your observation that every interaction is somehow a negotiation of reality – even though it is a terrifying one. A little empathy goes a long way 🙂
    Keep asking the questions!

    *He obviously never met Cricket and Butterfly

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  15. Your analysis of our current condition was profound. My belief is that our biggest challenge is to find commity. Unless we can pull back from our current practice of shouting above the other person’s point of view it is hopeless for all of us.

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    • Here’s hoping we can make progress.

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    • To your point: The loudest always gets his way, the same is true of money. Whoever has the most money in his bank account gets to decide what inform people are allowed to consume. The church was the one place I felt comfortable being, not anymore. The political atmosphere has reached heights never reached before, crossed lines never crossed before, and that really is frightening. I’m a woman with no place left to run, in this country or anywhere in the world…

      Please leave a comment at: http://www.viorasbooks.com/blog . Thank you.

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      • Thank you for your comment Of course, as a man I can’t feel all that you feel as a woman. But as a human and as an American I can say that I believe we cannot continue in this environment of ever-escalating anger and recrimination. Somehow we need to begin to listen to the other person’s point of view, whether it’s in politics, economics, or religion. I’m not sure how we get there, but just as the longest journey begins with one step, this change begins with one person – me I, for one, am going to make every effort to bring civility back into discourse. I hope that you will, too.

      • Every journey begins with one step, and every conversation with one word. Let us begin to realize first of all…that we are humans, and therefore draw our conclusions for an even compromised mind, but that is not to suggest we argue at every turn and throw tantrums at each and the other, and get nowhere. We have to be civil to each other, allow others to voice their concerns, not drown them at every angle. We a democracy. A democracy cannot be one without opposing views.

  16. hairytoegardener

    Sorry my response is long…It hit a nerve.

    This is such a great post. Seriously. Why? Because I ponder much of what you wrote but seldom say anything. When I do, I’m told my ideas are wrong or that I’m overly sensitive.
    I’ve pulled myself out of society because I don’t agree with much that I see. People interpret this to mean I don’t know what’s going on in the world, but that isn’t the case. I keep up with the news–online, on the radio, and I read newspapers. However, I’ve never been a Facebook member. I don’t tweet, and I haven’t watched TV since 2001. Finally, I don’t own a cell phone. Gasp! People have actually become angry with me for this, and I’ve been bullied for not having one. Why do I have to conform? If I’m happy, why can’t I live the way I choose?

    Since people don’t connect with me on Facebook, they are suspicious, and so don’t “hang” with me at all. I was told by a colleague I’d be left behind in terms of our culture and in part, he was right. I accept this.

    I have valid reasons for not being on Facebook and for not owning a cell phone, but I don’t condemn others for these things.

    You wrote, “Part of my confusion comes from relying so heavily on the people around me to tell me who we are and how the world is, and not feeling safe enough just to go with my own perspective.” I often feel that way. More than that, I often don’t understand those around me who say, “It’s okay for people to be different.” when their actions show that they don’t mean it. I understand not feeling safe in going with your own perspective because I went with mine, and because of this, I’m sometimes ostracized. It’s scary.

    I’ve oriented my life not to be as self-centered as I used to be. This gives my life meaning. I volunteer for good causes. (I clean cat cages at the shelter, walk dogs, foster puppies, and help on adoption days.) I don’t’ need Facebook to occupy my time. I read. I don’t need the TV to fill up my life. I garden. I don’t need to Tweet. I write, even though I’m often my own audience. I also meet with a few close friends for lunch or talk with them on the phone.

    You wrote, “You matter. I matter. We create this world together every day. And we can do better. Right?”

    I’m not sure I matter to most other people (unless they can change me), but I know I matter to my mutts and the animals I care for at the humane society. The world doesn’t need people like me because I’m not on Facebook, am not a consumer, and am not so self-focused. The world moves on without me.

    I wrote once, “I don’t expect you to share my reality, but don’t expect me to change mine.” And also, “It’s better to be kind than to be right.” Someone became angry with me for that last sentiment, so these days, I generally keep my mouth shut except in this post and when I’m loving an animal.

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    • I think having your say is everyone’s right, and if we can figure out how to do it respectfully and compassionately, we will get to some very good places as a society. It’s just that those qualities are hard to get to in the short space allowed in a tweet or a text; we need more time and space than that.

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    • Listen, my friend: No one is entitled to his opinion – not you and certainly not me; arguing allows us to have a conversation, and that is what is lacking in our society, today. We have become a generation all too eager to drown other people’s point of view, without first realizing a democracy cannot be one without opposing views.

      Please leave a message at: http://www.viorasbooks.com. Thank you.

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  17. I really like your ponderings – insightful and well expressed.

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  18. I so agree with you. “Wisest is she who knows she does not know”. What you wrote here is wiser than all those pieces expressing loud opinions. A strong sense of empathy can be hard but it is what this world needs… And you know what the truth is? What you feel in your heart to be true. What makes you happy, what makes others happy, what doesn’t hurt anyone. 💚

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  19. I agree with most of your post. I take one minor issue with the concept of blame. I believe you meant to present blame as a choice, which it is. But to those who choose to blame–other people, circumstance, the cards, the weather, fate…let me ask you–What have you fixed with your blame? Please consider that when choosing blame; if it fixes nothing(as it usually does not fix anything), is it worth your time? Just my not-so humble opinion;-)

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  20. This is deep. I think one (of several) of the reasons people have got so dissatisfied with democracy and “the establishment” over most of the developed world – despite being in material terms mostly far better off than most people on the planet or their own ancestors – is that we’re beginning to forget what politics is about. It’s about the COLLECTIVE resolution of issues that can’t be left to each individual or family to make their own choices. So it’s about foreign policy and it’s about what to do with that small bit of waste land left after the local housing office was demolished. It’s about measures to combat climate change and it’s about what levels of noise should be allowed late at night. It’s even about whether the team should go on replying on Jane to get the coffee every time or whether they should have a rota or rely on spontaneous volunteering. That’s not PARTY politics, of course. But parties are just one quite effective way of organising and channelling politics. So many things CAN be done by individual choice, we forget some can’t – and commercial interests encourage us to forget, because they don’t want strong communities or strong democratic governments standing up to them. A democratic decision is made and people who didn’t get what they wanted feel the system has failed them.

    We go on the internet and ally with people who think like us. We no longer need to know our neighbours. We meet and share thoughts with a wide range of different people only in a few places – some pubs in the UK, for example, and to some extent some religious groups because although there is little variety of religion within such a group, there may be wide variations of social class, education, age, political opinions and so on.

    As you say, we create our own worlds; and when we can’t ignore that those worlds are not the whole reality, we’re scared.

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    • It doesn’t make sense to hoard wealth you know you will not have a need for in this one life-cycle. Unfortunately, that exactly is what has happened in this world, where the top 1% owns more wealth than the rest of us. And that cannot by any means be considered a democracy. A democracy allows us to voice concerns, the right to choose, the right to religion, afforded a reasonable wage, allowed to compete on leveled grounds, etc., which by all accounts have become engendered species…

      Please visit: http://www.viorasbooks.com , to respond. Thank you. Let’s keep the conversation going!

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  21. Cricket and Butterfly are so beautiful. I can see they visited the groomer.

    As for social constructs. Yes individualism is what Americans think we are about. However, from the earlier days, Americans have been about cooperation. Everything from barn raising to the Revolution to WWII was a cooperative effort. I don’t think we are that divided.

    Some of us have fallen for the line that we are a divided nation. I don’t think so. Most of us understand the social contract involves cooperation. We shall all hang togther or we shall all hang separately.

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    • Big corporations and our leaders benefit more from unrest, division, it’s good business. Unfortunately, majority of world citizens have fallen into the trap by buying into the narrative of division, without first realizing it is that same logic that makes the rich and powerful, powerful to begin with…

      Please leave a comment at: http://www.viorasbooks.com/blog. Thank you.

      Reply
  22. It would be something if everyone thought the same way-and it was wrong. That’s happened before (the earth is flat) and is probably happening now and will still happen in the future.

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  23. When you need a break, I recommend a documentary I just watched called ” Second Chance Dogs” from the ASPCA. Just like your dogs, the rescued dogs show us that love, compassion and patience endure. Peace.

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  24. So diplomatic: I wonder if I could write so even-handedly without expressing a “controversial” view I’m passionate about. I’m starting to see that both sides still do share certain values, sometimes to different degrees, but that there are BIG blind spots from *both* sides. It would be so helpful if people from each side could trade lives for a day, a week, a month… just walking around in someone else’s shoes. It would be so incredibly eye-opening, I’m sure, if applied to all Americans from all walks of life.

    I do agree with others. We need less reliance on Facebook, Twitter, social media “news”, but how do we force the media towards less sensationalist coverage? News shouldn’t be indistinguishable from the next blockbuster Hollywood film. The “from the gut” misinformation propaganda is so harmful in keeping citizens informed.

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    • I agree. Even my favorite TV journalists have too much of a tendency to over-dramatize things, and minimize others. It’s been incredibly frustrating to watch the media vaguely acknowledge responsibility and then go on to blaming everyone else.

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  25. Rachel, great post. We often times compare our “wanna be selfs” to the “worst example in others.” This black and white view does not reflect our gray world, where we are all imperfect. We do rely on others to help us network or through a tough time. So, it would be judicious to realize none of us are ever alone in this world and we should do our best to understand each other. Well done, Keith

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  26. Thank you for so beautifully voicing the concerns of so many of us who are just plain confused, stunned, and saddened.

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  27. A powerful piece. I will have to read it again (and perhaps again) to take in the full impact but I was very touched by your frustration. The world is a confusing place and the people who exist within it are even more so. One might think that “love is all that matters” might qualify as a self-evident truth but even that is questioned by people who would limit their love to only those people who agree with them. I’m glad you have your blog as an outlet for expressing these feelings and sharing them with your devoted readers.

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  28. You’re a gifted writer, Rachel.

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  29. Yes! i wish I could figure out a way to share this with my classes without triggering political reprisal.

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  30. So agree! I know change is inevitable, but I too am NOT liking this current one and having a bit of a difficult time with it – I’m seeing more and more evidence of separation of individuals. How very sad.

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  31. We can make a difference….but so many more of us must stand in outrage and use our voices and our votes to say racism is not ok, and neither are any of the other ism(s)!!
    Well written and thoughtful post.

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  32. You touched on so many things that make sense. We have been away from America since September and it looks crazy from Down Under. Cricket and Butterfly are masters at living in the moment at all times. I wish I could do that!

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  33. Great post! ‘Separation is an illusion ‘ that quote is so insightful into your words!

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  34. Pingback: Mystery Blogger Award! – Olga's Oddish Obsession

  35. So beautifully expressed. I like the way you’ve approached these deep divisions which we in Australia have too. As always, animals show us the best way to live. Love 6o Cricket and Butterfly

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  36. In my humble opinion, this is your best ever – and that’s saying a lot.
    Bravo!

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  37. I have been just taking from the folks who who have kARRRGH

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  38. Excellent piece filled with wonderful insights.

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  39. People can deny some truths and say it isn’t so, but they are like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand (something I have heard is actually a false belief about ostriches, but since I know nothing about them I can’t say yes or no to that.) Anyway back to the point. For example take global warming or climate change, whatever you want to call it. People can deny that it exists, but in all our travels of the world in the past few years there is one constant we hear from locals everywhere – the weather is not normal for that time of year. Doesn’t matter where in the world it is or what season. Everyone lives in their own little bubble of what they believe though and and the human brain seems pretty good at not noticing that which it does not want to acknowledge. Which just goes to show as you said truths are not universally accepted.

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  40. Excellently written. Keep up the good work 🙂 If you have time, check out my latest blog post at https://tootinghustle.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/embarrassing-moment/ and let me know what you think!

    Happy blogging x

    Reply

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