C. Wright Mills explains that sociological imagination is the ability to see and understand the impact of social factors and changes on individuals’ private and/or public lives. Sociological imagination plays a vital role in the life of a sociologist as, only when we have the ability to look beyond our lives and view the world with a different perspective, do we have the power to escape or destroy our traps.
We do not view the changes in our lives as being part of a bigger picture; rather we view them as our own private troubles. Mills says that people are seldom aware of the social forces behind the ups and downs of their personal lives. They fail to connect their lives to the ‘Bigger picture’ often times failing to realize that the shaping of their lives also shapes the society that they live in and that it also determines the historical changes taking place. They don’t understand that their life is entwined with the structural arrangements of our society and the times in which we live. We should be aware of the fact that everything we do or everything that happens to us has a sort of a ‘Butterfly effect’ on the society. Just like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could affect the weather or cause a hurricane, any changes in our lives are also responsible for historical changes no matter how minute they are.
To have an active sociological imagination, a person must have the ability to think from a broader perspective and think of how it may affect the society as a whole. We often use the term ‘Why me?” when going through certain problems in our lives but instead of feeling hopeless, one should consider the factors that may have led to the situation. Things that can affect what goes on in one’s life are; firstly, the time we live in. We all know that as the world has evolved and gone through various stages since the Stone Age, the characteristic of humans and societies have also changed in order to adapt to that period of time. So every time is different to the one before and the one coming after and every time comes with its own characteristics that affect the lives of the individuals in that time. Secondly, consider the society that one lives in; are the people in your society the same as the people in an Indian or African society? Do people have the same social norms, values, opinions in every part of the world? It is usually social norms that affect our behavior and our personal lives the most as we all live in communities and as part of a society. We are not individuals each living in his/her own island and we all contribute to the formation of our society.
At first when I was faced with the problem of racism, I felt it was my personal issue and as most people I kept dwelling over the question ‘Why me?’ but after reading and understanding Mills theory of a sociological imagination, I forced myself to think outside my personal wall and understand the issue in a larger perspective. Although, it is very easy to tell somebody else to have a social imagination or ‘think from someone else’s point of view’, it is in reality very difficult to achieve because as humans we are born with the tendency to feel sorry or pity ourselves. This restrains us from looking at a broader perspective but we have to push ourselves out there in order to achieve social imagination.
Looking at the problem of racism from a broader perspective, I realized that firstly, due to the times we are currently living in, racism is kind of like an inbuilt characteristic in the people of this time due to many factors such as the media and the way that it manipulates our minds. Various forms of media are easily available to everybody these days and the portrayal of certain countries in certain ways has led to the shaping of our thinking. Secondly, I realized that racism is prevalent in my society more due to the fact that most of the people in society have had an upbringing that teaches them to look down upon certain ethnicities. Although realizing this may not have had a huge impact on the society as a whole, it made me feel less trapped and gave me the understanding that being racist was considered a ‘social norm’ for some people.