by Li Rong
What has happened in my life so far? The goals I have achieved were because of the social construction of reality. Like anybody else, ethnocentrism influenced my beliefs about right and wrong. After I moved from China to the United States, I started to form my own perspective.
Not only the Chinese society's transformations, but also the changes in my own life, are all because of the social construction of reality "the creation by people in social interaction of what they regard as true Whatever reality may exist objectively, part of what humans always do is to see that reality through a social construction to some extent." As the Soviet Union broke up, Chinese realized the economic system of communist ideology couldn't work out. China transformed little by little from communist to capitalist. As I grew up, my life was affected by this background.
Looking back on my path, my goals ware different during different periods of time: I was born in the mid-1970's. The Chinese government just ended the political movements at that time. My parents only hoped that I could grow up safe and healthy. Being a child, my dream was to have meat to eat every meal without government rationing. In the 1980's, China opened the door to the world. People's living conditions were improved and I was able to eat as much as I wanted. Then, the government was emphasizing developing the economy and technology. Education suddenly became crucial in China's new social construction of reality. My parents and I hoped that I would be able to go to college. Being a college student would be a big success; the government would assign good positions with decent pay and good benefits. By the 1990's, China began their "Market Economy" (they wouldn't call it capitalism). People believed in competition. The winner will get the market or the job. With a college degree, I still had to look hard for a job. But unlike with my parents' generation, people believed that changing job is acceptable if there is a better opportunity. What I wanted to be or what I wanted to do was influenced by others with whom I associated. I saw the achievements others made; I believed that I could do the same. With this socially constructed reality guiding me, I was able to achieve my goals.
Since coming to the U.S., I saw the connection between being educated and success through the experience of other Chinese immigrants. I saw the necessity of being in college to help me better understand the world. I came to Metro State University pursuing more education. My reality is still being constructed by this social environment.
One of the things I gained from this social science course is an understanding of ethnocentrism "the tendency for people in social organization to regard their own culture as central to the universe, believing their own ideas, values, and rules must be true, leading to judging other people according to how close they are to their own culture" I was very upset and argued with my husband about the Tibet issue right after I moved here. At that time, the Dalai Lama was in town and gave a speech in the University of Minnesota. The territory and ethnic conflicts are always sensitive and controversial. Being from the major ethnic group in China, I thought the political movements of the Tibetans were definitely wrong; the Dalai Lama was mistaken to advise separatism. "We" were helping the Tibetans; "we" were civilizing and modernizing them. How could they disagree? After watching the video about Columbus in the class, I have to reconsider my view more objectively. What I believed before was influenced by ethnocentrism. The Tibet issue is very similar to Europeans settling in America. On the one hand, the Chinese were modernizing Tibet; but on the other hand, they were colonizing it. There are advantages, but there are disadvantages, such as the despoiling of natural resources.
The process of living in two totally different countries led me to form my own perspective "the angle on reality; an approach to perceiving and understanding reality; a context within which an individual or organization interprets reality." In China, the government is controlled by one political party. No one could say that China has democracy. Witnessing the American war protests, I was surprised that Americans dare to speak out against their government and president. Now, I believe the U.S. criticism of China: people under the government's autocracy are not free to express their different opinions. However, in the United States, seeing all the corporate scandals here in the U.S., and how little is really being done to control the excessive power of the big corporations, I understand that the Chinese criticism of the U.S. is also close to the truth: no matter who is elected, it is the unelected heads of the corporations who are really in charge. Even in a democracy, those who are really represented are the rich. It seems every government has its problems and disadvantages. There is no perfect place to live. What attitude should I have to face the imperfections? My husband once told me, "I have the responsibility to write to my representatives if I know a policy or proposal is wrong ... I still vote although I don't necessarily believe in either the Republicans or the Democrats ... It matters to me where the products I purchase come from ..." I was impressed by his attitude. I learned that no matter where I am, I should have responsibility to the whole society. There are many things I should care about. The individual does make a difference in the nature of reality.
What will my life become in the future? Since I am aware my reality is constructed by social forces, I will try to participate in that construction as a positive influence. Since I am aware that ethnocentrism impacts my views, I will try harder to really understand the views of people from other cultures. Since I am aware of my perspective-- an individual's responsibility to society, I will maintain a positive attitude and be a good influence in this world.
(The definition of terms in this paper come from the Ten Questions: a Sociological Perspective by Joel M. Charon)