Society Dictated Life Goals and the Path to Achieve Them: Right or Wrong -Rahimul Islam


Every person develops in their family and sociocultural milieu as a social being. He learns civic responsibility and duty from society and his family. A youngster often learns to establish professional and spiritual goals in life from an early age by utilizing the knowledge and culture that are prevalent in his community. However, this objective might alter based on the education and opportunities that become accessible in the future. Since nearly every social organization in our culture is a representation of capitalism, our youngsters naturally consider gaining their careers as the most important life objective. And in setting these professional goals, attention is paid more to the prevailing trends in the society. Most of the time, our families and society force the younger generation to set the same standards by which they are only ever evaluated from the outside. The majority of the information does not take into account a person’s personal desires, skills, or emotional needs. The society places expectations on each person’s life, which they adopt as their own personal goals. And he has only a few legitimate means at his in order to accomplish this goal. Consequently, a stress is formed naturally. And this pressure or stress is defined as anomie by a renowned American sociologist, Robert King Merton (1983). This article will discuss ways to deal with this arising stress or anomie.
Robert King Merton was a Russian-born Jewish sociologist. After arriving in the USA and finishing his education, he started his work here. He primarily conducted research and taught at the esteemed Columbia University in New York, where he achieved the highest academic position of “University Professor”. He is recognized in criminology for his 1983 presentation of the Social Structure and Anomie Theory. It has been referred to as the social strain theory. He demonstrated in this theory that people experience mental pressure to achieve particular goals in their family, society, professional institution, educational institution and even peer group for a variety of reasons. For example, a marketing officer is often forced by his boss to sell more products, as a family member he is also pressured in home to increase the monthly income. Again, as a football player, his teammates pressure him to score more goals during the match.
This kind of tension is typical in the capitalist culture we live in today. And one is regarded as successful if they are able to handle the pressure and achieve the goal. The issue, though, is that in a society where competition is fierce, these objectives may not always be justifiably attained. Then the person is forced to seek different ways which are not always within the definition of legality. As a result, societal dysfunction and the likelihood of various criminal activities occurring increase. According to Robert King Merton’s theory, there are five modes to deal with this strain. These are-
l Conformity
l Innovation
l Ritualism
l Retreatism
l Rebellion
The first method of achieving social and economic goals is conformity. Conformists are people who are able to implement the social and economic goals set by society in the ways advised by their society or institution. And the majority of our culture belongs to this category. By properly asserting their own beliefs and ambitions, such people are able to attain so-called success on the path provided by society. It is a blessing for that person if the society in which he lives is just and fair. Such people are the true examples of success in those societies. And they are constantly considered to be good citizens.
When a person accepts the societal aim as the goal of his professional or personal life but is unable to achieve it by the lawful methods prevailing in that society, he achieves it using any other means established by him outside of these so-called legitimate means. And in most circumstances, it is either pushing beyond the established rules or breaking them. Such people are referred as the innovative.
People in this category prefer to accomplish societally determined social and financial goals. But conventional means are not considered adequate to achieve these goals. In the search for various ways and means, individuals frequently act outside of the standards prescribed by society, which is considered as criminality. As a result, it looks that there is a structural limitation that is socially and institutionally illegal to violate. For this reason, most people across most societies commit financial crimes such as robbery, money laundering, embezzlement, and so on.
According to the third stage, ritualists do not accept the aims established by society or institutions as the ultimate goal of their lives. They don’t really believe that in order to be defined as successful, they must work towards the exact society-defined goal. According to Robert K. Merton, the majority of people in this category are from the lower middle class. And such people usually view their work as a means of survival rather than success. They behave in a socially acceptable way. Consequently, it does not require any mental strain to obtain the socially prescribed success. These people are always mentally stable. Meanwhile, they are frequently overlooked as unsuccessful individuals in family and community. Yet, they lead an happy life in family.
According to the notion, people who are part of this adaptation system are those who reject both the societal goals and the means used to reach them. Generally, disabled persons use this strategy to cope up with the social strain placed on them. For example, if a boy drops out of school owing to study pressure, he is unable to function well in society and, in some situations, becomes addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, and other addictions in order to forget his failure. Retreatists are typically defined as those who have experienced gradual failure at some point in their lives. Many of these persons are impoverished. As a result, they stay far from these goals. According to Merton, most of these views believe in individualistic goals.
Rebellion is the most dangerous but exceptional kind of adaptation. Those who cope with social tension in this manner propose new approaches after rejecting both society’s goals and the appropriate means of reaching those goals. They believe that the specified goals of normal society would not satisfy their life’s purpose. They want to replace society’s current system with their proposed alternative system. Some people are overly determined to succeed. Then their clash with the society’s law and order forces becomes unavoidable. As a result, a terrorist rebel group is created. In most cases, the state’s existing authority accepted their suggested demands with minor adjustments and repressed the rebellion. It does, however, occasionally fail.
What is the prescription in Islam?
The modern era is one of media, in which people in the East may easily learn about and see the lifestyle of those in the West through social media. In the same way, Western can hear Eastern music while sitting there. Any information pertaining to the East’s existence and livelihood is at their fingertips. However, the beliefs and goals of Eastern and Western mainstream people regarding life are not the same.
Especially as Muslims dominate most of the towns in the East, the people of this region should look to the holy book Al-Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) before racing to the society’s goals. Accepting the Islamic way of life will be more helpful to them. Because it is vital for Muslims to verify the legitimacy of any means and objectives of the present social order before accepting them. If it is forbidden, it is compulsory to abandon it, and if it is permitted, it can be accepted, according to Islamic Shari’a or law.
Thus, a Muslim may freely adopt a professional or social goal if it does not conflict with Islamic Shari’a. And he can expend the utmost labor and talent to achieve it by the legitimate means existing in society. In this regard, the advice of Islam is to limit the demands and not to be jealous of the wealth or achievements of others. And only then the possibility of crime can be reduced.
“Do not even cast your eyes towards the worldly goods we have granted to different kinds of people, nor grieve over the state they are in, but turn your loving attention to the believers instead.”(15:88 Holy Qur’an)
And if it happens that the existing social system is hostile to Islamic Shari’a and cannot progress in any way prescribed by Islamic Shari’a for success, then the people of that region should try to reform their society gradually.
“Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that ye may receive admonition.”(16:90 Holy Qur’an)
However, Islam explicitly prohibits armed and violent rebellion. Followers of Islamic ideology should set life goals in a peaceful manner that is consistent with the Islamic way of life and work to accomplish these goals using legal means and methods. It must be remembered that the ultimate goal of the life of believers is the welfare of the Hereafter which is different from that of unbelievers. n

The author of this article is a student of the Department of Criminology and Police Science, University of Chittagong.