As a college sociology professor, I am expected to inspire and stimulate my students through lectures, class discussions and individual and group assignments, as well as my professional behavior. Also, I am obliged to evaluate my students by giving them papers, tests and quizzes, sometimes projects. In my classes, we explore fundamental sociological concepts, methods, and theories used to interpret the patterns of human society. We emphasize on the connection between theory and practice in examining social interaction, cultural diversity, social structure, and current global issues. Overall, my goal is to train my students to become better citizens of our global village. In sociology we focus on “WE,” instead of “I.”
At the end of each semester, when the final bell has been rung, I like to see what impressions, if any, were made on our students. In the academic process, the students have the opportunity to evaluate the class, and I, as a teacher, have the opportunity to grade their work.
However, from time to time there are also some unexpected rewards for a college sociology professor that occur when students apply the teachings to inspire the teacher and their classmates. This happened to me at the end of the fall semester of 2014. At that time, one of my female students, Faith Muthiani, volunteered to make a short video clip as her final class assignment. I was puzzled and a bit worried as it would be her first video production. The result was mind boggling. When she set up the equipment for the presentation, we could all tell from her body language that she put her heart, mind and soul into this project. She entitled her work: “Your Voice Matters,” and it turned out to be something extraordinary, something deeply moving.
“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love.” – Albert Einstein
When I present lectures on sociological theories, I often see in my students’ bored facial expressions indicating a total lack of interest in the subject. But, when I move the lecture to issues related to education, social class, or global stratification, I can see a few faces turning into a full attention mode, but still not all the students are with me. However, there is one topic that will cause the entire class to lay down their e-devices and start to listen to every word: that is the topic of LOVE. Love strikes me as a neglected force that, once released, could bring about international stability and boost economic development.
Love emerges in my lectures for its role in interpersonal relations in socialization and development. I begin my lecture with a discussion about the role of family in social development and then move towards marriage and, more broadly, love. The topic family frequently triggers strong emotional reactions among students. As classroom discussions reveal many have experienced some family difficulty or problems. And then comes the topic of love: each time when I talk about love, I can see melting facial expressions in each of my students. The purpose of the lecture is not only focused on romantic teenage love based on hormones and erotic attraction. In the Bible, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 15:13 “The Greatest Social Worker Ever” says, “Greater love has no one than this – that someone lay down his life for his friends.” I always substantiate this quote with a compelling story about the Polish Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die by starvation in place of a stranger in the Nazis’ death camp of Auschwitz. Pope John Paul II declared him "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century." All of sudden, gender, complexion or ethnicity no longer matter. Neither does religion, age or sexual orientation. When I see students’ reaction to my lecture on love in everyday life, I get chills down my spine and goose bumps all over my body.
Watching the reactions of my students, I have become deeply convinced that love is not only a universal force for good, but one that also brings to the human heart hope and peace for a better tomorrow. When humans are in love, they can selflessly endure more- since love, like ray of hope, stimulates them to persevere. Hopefulness too, encourages us to explore, build, innovate and thrive, but it all starts with love.
"Environmental conflict is not ultimately about scientific true and false, but about moral right and wrong. It is not about the facts themselves, but what makes the facts meaningful. There are important moral and spiritual bases of conflict that observers and participants in the conflict have ignored, muted or simply misunderstood."
- Justin Farrell, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University and the author of The Battle for Yellowstone
Most sociologists consider the family unit to be a fundamental building block of society. However, it is largely absent as a topic in international development goals. Should this be the case?
"The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish." - Pope John Paul II
A recent report led by Stanford, Princeton, and Berkeley universities said vertebrates are disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than normal. These findings echo those of a similar report published by Duke University last year. One of the new study’s authors said: “We are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event.” The last such event was 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs were wiped out, in all likelihood by a large meteor hitting Earth.
In light of this apocalypse-like news, I would like to take a closer look at yet another endangered, but a bit more tangible element of life on planet Earth, namely, the family. As humankind, along with plants and animals approach what is being called the sixth great mass extinction, I wonder if it will be an event that humans go through en masse as loners, (the atomistic man as the only unit in society), or as people knit together by ties to a nuclear and extended family. I often think that the role of the family is too-often neglected and has been taken for granted in our day. The all-consuming drive and ambitious personal priority of the individual in today’s world makes me worry that families may one day go, and, as the family goes, so will go civilization.
When people talk about saying “no” the discussion usually revolves around why we find it so difficult. We want to help, we don’t want to make the other person feel bad, we are afraid of confrontation, we might feel guilty... the list goes on. There is usually a chapter on ‘saying no’ in self-help books, and it’s a popular topic for religious leaders and psychologists. They claim that we must be assertive, value ourselves, defend our rights, and seek relationships with healthy foundations.
But there might be a more intrinsic reason why saying no is so difficult: humans are social creatures and are inherently vulnerable to the suggestions of others.
Many of us assume that the favors we ask of others will only be granted if the other person feels comfortable with them, but we fail to realize that simply by asking we are influencing the other’s actions and willingness to oblige. We don’t consciously think about the degree to which we take cues from other people.
This leads us to underestimate how much power our neighbor who asks us for favors has or the amount of influence we, ourselves, have when we give advice to a relative. We ask favors and give advice without realizing that the person listening will, more often than not, take what we say on board. We agree to things and we say yes because we are unaware of how easily influenced we are.
So what happens when someone asks a favor that is unethical? Do we realize how easy it is to convince someone, and does this influence our decision to ask for unethical things? Do we recognize our tendency to say yes and do we allow our own sense of morality and ethics triumph?
As we reported on this blog, CommGAP organized an Executive Course in Communication for Governance earlier this month. The communication part of the course was characterized as "strategic communication" - which made me wonder what, exactly, strategic communication is, how it is relevant for our work, and whether it's different from "communication" per se. A faculty member from the course pointed us to an article by Hallahan et al., titled "Defining Strategic Communication," which states that "strategic communication" is "the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission." The purposeful use of communication makes it "strategic." The authors elaborate that : "Six relevant disciplines are involved in the development, implementation, and assessment of communications by organizations: management, marketing, public relations, technical communication, political communication, and information/social marketing campaigns." Although the authors see strategic communication as "an emerging paradigm," this clarification defines strategic communication as a set of tools, not as a discipline. Marketing, public relations etc. themselves are no disciplines, but approaches drawn from broader fields, such as economics and communication.
Communication is something of an ugly duckling in the social sciences – not many people take it seriously and not many people see the immediate relevance of the research. However, the study of public opinion is a good example to outline the immediate relevance of the field – and its future relevance.
- Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
- Social Sciences
- Public Sphere
- Public Opinion Tribunal
- Public Opinion
- Political Science
- Political Philosophy
- mass media
- James Mill
- Information Processing
- Information Dissemination
- Fourth Estate
- Communication Studies
- Communication Science
- Communication Research
- Charles Cooley