How did you become who you are? Why do you make the choices you make? Why do you do what you do? In large part, we answer these questions using the term ‘socialization.’ Socialization is the conditioning of people by institutions. We live in groups and the groups develop society. The groups develop their own rules about the right and the wrong way to do things. What is an acceptable way to consume food? Do we eat dogs and octopodes? Is the plural of octopus octopi, octopuses, or octopodes? Also, without moral overtones, the group in which we are raised has behaviors it passes on to the next generation. We might pledge allegiance to the flag. We might stand up when a lady comes to the table. We might use water as an alternative to toilet paper.
The first social unit to socialize us is our family. For my family, we celebrate Chinese New Year and the Calendar New Year. We have popcorn with movies in the basement. We use the word ‘stinks’ instead of ‘sucks’ to describe a bad situation. In my family of origin, anger was in the background of everyday life. I learned to deal with anger by keeping my head down and trying to appease the most angry person in the room. In our house now, busyness is a virtue. If a person sits and relaxes, he or she is wasting time which could be spent productively.
The second unit to socialize an individual is often schooling. Many a Kindergartner comes home from school and defends their teacher to their parents. Mommy holds her pencil wrongly or writes her letters wrongly because it is not the way the teacher does it. As a teacher, I introduced Roberts Rules of Order as a way of discussing contentious issues. A parent later told me the students were using Roberts Rules of Order on play-dates to resolve issues. It is fun when the processes and values of school support and enhance the perspective of the family, but what if they stand in opposition?
Alongside the socialization of the family and the school comes the socializing institution of media. By media we mean print, audio, and visual media. As each generation has been socialized over the last hundred years, saturation in media has risen exponentially. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century literacy began to rise and more people had access to books. As public schooling made literacy a priority for more people, newspapers and books became more important in the socialization process. Speeches have always shaped people at key times in history and songs have been passed on around the piano in the home or tavern. Being able to record speeches and songs made the ideas embedded in them available to everyone. Songs are particularly powerful as a shaper of people because people do not necessarily the song’s distinct stance on values and truth.
Movies are modern ways to tell stories. Myth and story have shaped cultures for years. We see that clearly in Greek Mythology or Norse Mythology. We look into the past and see how culture shaped the stories and the stories shaped the culture. We are not always aware, though, of the same processes at work today. Modern parents do not really assess whether a story is told from a secular perspective. They just marvel when their ‘Christian’ child becomes a secularist.
Another socializing institution is peer groups. The mob mentality is real. Fashions sweep through schools leading to bulk purchases of fidget spinners, slime, or Taylor Swift music. Some things become in and others are condemned as out. Some people are popular and others are bullied. Some language helps a student fit in. Other language gets a youth group member shut out. There are key influencers in the group, but the power of the herd is real. We are carried along by the majority, even when it means falling off a cliff.
Socialization is a name given to a powerful process observed every day in society. For genuine conversion to a different culture or belief system to take place a rewiring needs to occur. How would you go about rewiring a generation? Is it ever desirable? Are the majority culture’s behaviors and values already in line with your own?
These thoughts result from reading a commentary on 1 Thessalonians which claimed the book was a resocialization manual for the church in Thessaloniki.