When people hear that I am an anthropology major, they usually look at me with a half-curious, half-sympathetic expression. My focus being on sociocultural anthropology, I look at a wide range of social phenomena in cultures, from social structure to identity issues to religion and even race politics. While my beloved major has surely filled my brain with endless, maybe unworkable Geertz and Boasian theory, it has also taught me plenty about how to understand the crazy, ever-changing world we live in. Hoping these will be helpful to you, too, below are three essential life lessons that I’ve learned from studying anthropology.
The world is much larger than we know.
Throughout the years, I’ve read ethnographies from remote villages, country towns, and inner city neighborhoods. I have been amazed that, while humans are similar to at our core, we all experience life so differently. Can you imagine a world where women’s’ social roles are dominant as opposed to that of men? Where siblings are expected to marry one another? Where magic is used to explain weather occurrences? This all exists! I’ve learned that our world is very diverse, which leaves no room for judgment, only greater curiosity.
Always consider context.
Even if you’ve only taken Anth 101, you’ve probably heard the professor stress this point. Considering context means to reflect on how environment, time, people, culture, and relationships affect the situation at hand. Not only is this point useful for academic research, but I’ve also found that context is a useful tool in dealing with conflict or frustration. If you take a moment to think about what forces have shaped someone’s words or actions, you may realize that that person is not totally to blame.
Think critically about everything.
This has helped me to explore my own personality, in the sense that critical thinking helps differentiate what is socially expected and what is essentially your personality. For example, are you posting a picture of yourself at a party to show that you are a typical college student or to show that you love photography and it’s a great shot? Are you wearing that blouse because everyone else loves it or because you love it? Honestly answering questions like these has kept me centered, and hopefully will do the same for you!