Every society expects each person to play certain roles according to a fairly strict set of rules. We call such well-defined roles basic because they depend on our basic human qualities such as sex, age and kinship, which apply to everyone alike. Each of us is male or female, a baby or an adult, a nephew, a grandmother, or whatever; and, as such, certain standardized behavior is expected of us.
Basic roles play a larger part in the organization of small scale societies than in the more complex ones. People like the Bushmen, with only a primitive technology and living in a hostile environment, rely for their survival on each individual fulfilling his basic role. Such a society leaves little room for conflict or dissension about basic roles.
In the simplest societies like the Comanche Indians of North America a man’s career is marked out for him by age. A young man was always expected to be aggressive. He seized what he could and held it without caring for the rights of people weaker than he. But when he grew older, he was forced to assume the new role of elder, which demanded very different behavior. His task was then to give advice, settle disputes and prevent the tribe from making unnecessary enemies. He had to be wise and gentle, willing to overlook discourtesy and even to endure abuse.
Since basic roles follow automatically from age and sex, they give a sense of continuity- and thus of security. Since each individual is trained from birth for his role, he has a chance to learn to fill it well. This training from birth for a basic role is found also in more complex societies where selection for roles is based on heredity. But a very complex society needs more flexible ideas about role fitting.
A complex society that overemphasizes the importance of basic roles may become too rigid in its organization. A colour bar is an example of this. In South Africa and some of the southern states of the United States, people use skin colour to define basic roles. So in a wide range of situations the way people are treated depends simply on their colour. Talented Negroes who could make a greater contribution to society are prevented from doing so while many whites on the other hand; get a distorted sense of their own importance.
Another example is the caste system of traditional India. All members of one caste have the same kind of job and the same religious rites. They cannot marry or eat with members of other castes. If they come into contact with people form castes much lower than their own, they have to carry out a ceremony to cleanse themselves of pollution. In this way, the caste that a man is born into gives him basic role that affects his entire life.
Such a hidebound structure acts as a strong barrier to change and new ideas. A system of unchanging basic roles, while it may work well in some areas can lead to a waste of human talent. This is why in most highly industrialized societies today, people are given a chance through education to use and develop their special talents so that they may have a choice of many roles.
Content created and supplied by: JimmyNKenya (via Opera News )