The symbolic interactionism is an excellent sociological perspective that allows us to focus on micro activities and to analyze our society which is the product of everyday’s life. Tuesdays with Morrie is more than a simple book, more than a romance one; it is a great book that teaches us many of life’s greatest lessons. An analysis of this book using the SI perspective and concepts such as meaning making, status, impression management, looking-glass self, role taking, role making, and self-presentation helps us understand the real meaning of Morrie’s words and lessons.
Morrie Schwartz was a professor at the Brandeis University before learning that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a brutal, unforgiving and most importantly deadly disease of the neurological system and there was no known cure. In the beginning, he had a hard time accepting it, but after thinking deeply he decided to enjoy the rest of his life to the fullest. He learned that there was nothing to do about the illness, and that the world will not end because he is sick.
Would everyone react this way after such discovery? I will not be mistaken if I say that only a few of us would react like Morrie.
I, personally, would not react the same way. Luckily, Mitch learned about his old professor Morrie on television and went to visit him. After this first visit, he started visiting Morrie every Tuesday and learned many life lessons. They discussed about many topics such as the world, the act of feeling sorry for ourselves, regrets, death, family, emotions, money, marriage, and other interesting ones.
But the book is more than just these topics. An analysis of the book, using some concepts of the symbolic interactionism perspective can help us understand it.
To begin, meaning making is a concept that helps us create meaning. We can use the word “death” as an example. Just by mentioning it, people feel uncomfortable because they see it as the end of the world, the end of everything. But for Morrie it is different, he takes it as a step that every one of us will make. He does not see it as something fatal, does not worry, and even make some jokes about it. Just because he gives it another meaning, he lives better and happier with his family. There are also many other examples such as money, power, and fame.
For many of us, these last three things are essential. We think that they are requirements for our happiness, but it is not always true. We think this way because of the meaning we create. Morrie helps us know that other things such as love and family are more important. To continue, self-presentation is a concept in which people try to influence the perception of their image. It can be good or bad, it depends on the person. Morrie try to influence his image by teaching to other people, by loving his wife, children, and friends, by doing the right things, and also by always staying himself.
He tries to be a mentor; he knows that he is not the best person on Earth, but he tries to do good things. Mitch is completely different. In the beginning, the only thing that matters to him is his status. The most important things for him were money, expensive cars, and fame, but not love. He just tries to portray himself as a great sports reporter. Nothing else matters to him, not even his wife. Morrie and Mitch present themselves differently, but the example to follow is clearly Morrie. There is also the looking-glass self is a concept by which we think of ourselves the way people see us.
By impression management, we mean that our behavior changes easily, often, and we do not even think about it. These two concepts are related. Like most of us, Mitch deeply cares about the way people see him. He is trying to make money; everything he does has to do with money. He is driven by this idea and does not think about how he really feels. Mitch thinks that he will be portrayed or seen better by the society if he makes more money. That makes him become greedy. He thinks only about himself and does not care about his wife.
This is a common situation in our society; people change easily due to the environment. We are really focused on making more money to have more power that we forget to be ourselves. We are acting to please the society and we cannot spend our whole life doing it. By paying too much attention to the way people see us, we are not living our life and we hurt others that really love us. Another interesting concept is the role taking that is the process of placing ourselves in someone else position. It is something that we neglect most of time.
If we place ourselves in Morrie’s position, would we accept to lose how privacy and also enjoy our life with this illness? I doubt so! Even though he is sick, Morrie continue to help others and listen to their problems. He acts like he is the healthy one when he is not. Morrie is doing what Mitch has never done in his whole life. He cares about himself and ignores how others feel when he does something. Before doing something, Morrie places himself in the other person’s position. It is something that most of us will never do because we are too selfish to do it.
The last concept is the role making that is the process of shaping our realities, we shape our role. Morrie decides to be an excellent father, husband, teacher, professor, and person. He decides to be this way. In the other way, Mitch decides to be a distant husband, brother, person. We decide what and who we want to be. No one will do it for us, but we must be wise while shaping our role. To conclude, this analysis of the book, using the symbolic interactionism perspective and some of its concepts, helps us see the world, the society, and ourselves in a different way.
We can see the changes in Mitch at the end of the book; he shows love, interest in people, he is like a new man thanks to Morrie’s lessons. Just by applying some of Morrie’s principles we will make our world a better place for everyone. Nobody is perfect and Morrie is certainly not the exception. But his way of thinking, his actions, his understanding of human interactions make him really special, different to others. He was a teacher, not because he taught a subject, but because he taught us many important life lessons. This book helps his legacy continue and he deserves it.