Discussion of C.H. Cooley's "Social Consciousness"



How social is man appears from a study of suicide. Few commit suicide from physical anguish—from pain, cold, or hunger. A man is far more likely to renounce life when some catastrophe happens to the image of himself be is accustomed to see in the eyes of others. A business man fails, an officer is cashiered, a woman who has made a false step is exposed, and though their physical well-being is secured, out they go. Again, there is nothing like social relations to keep down suicide. Isolated, the individual who meets with shipwreck lets go of life; knit up with others, he is supported by sympathy and encouragement and hangs on. Though all is lost, he has his social self to live for his "honor." This is why the lone suicide from three to five times as much

(116) as the married; why the Catholics, more closely joined into a religious community than the Protestants, endure much better the shocks of life and hence suicide less; why suicide is common in disintegrating societies, while wars and revolutions that knit men afresh cut down the frequency of self-murder. We enter life as animals; so long as we have bodily health, we battle on ; but gradually personality forms out of the give-and-take of social life and overgrows the physical man, constitutes, as it were, a kind of giant parasite. Presently we live or die according as the social self thrives or droops. After a man is fifty, how quickly he breaks if anything shatters the image of himself he is used to finding reflected from the faces of others l Let him suffer overwhelming political defeat, let him become a fugitive from justice, let wrongful accusations smirch his honor, let a daughter's shame make his name a by-word, or let his wife run away with another man, and he crumples like wet paper.

On the other hand, let him, as the years pass, meet with widening appreciation, love, and honor, environ him with old friends and young grandchildren, and he will live into the nineties. To explain this development of personality, to analyze the process out of which it arises, to describe its stages, to correlate it with the ideals and institutions it gives birth to—this is the supreme task of social psychology.


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