Does you private life sometimes feel like a series of traps? Do you feel like you’re always behind the eight ball? Or do you feel more optimistic about your life and the circumstances surrounding it?
Questions like these come up naturally as one reads the opening lines of C. Wright Mills’ classic The Sociological Imagination. Writing in 1959, Mills’ reported on a zeitgeist of which few of us has personal experience. Despite this, his words have a ring of familiarity, especially lines like this…
“Underlying this sense of being trapped are seemingly impersonal changes in the very structure of continent-wide societies” (Mills, 1959, p. 3).
Not to worry, though. Mills had a solution in mind, though it might be more accurate to call it a project. In this chapter, Mills proposes the need for a particular “habit of mind,” and in the remainder of the book draws out what exactly such a habit of mind would (and should not!) look like in practice. Have a look below. Do the responses indicate in some sense the habit of mind, the sociological imagination Mills might have been thinking of? Looking back at previous posts, did Sands, Staples, or Archer show signs of having a sociological imagination? Or, indeed, of somehow rejecting it?
Some of my friends have told me I have to look out for myself more. They say things like, “Who cares about that person, why are you so nice? They don’t give a damn about you!” Maybe they are right. Should I be the man who goes out of his way for people and expect nothing in return, or be that guy who cares for nobody but himself. Lately I find myself in the middle. I do small acts of kindness for people and don’t expect anything from it. I try to feel happy about what I am doing and would never use someone for personal gain. There is an issue of trust in the city. Often in my travels around the city I observe people and they look nervous or anxious. When I see people acting nervously this way I think of something a friend said to me in high school. He said “all it takes is a simple “Hello how are you?” when you walk past someone, it’s much better than that cold awkward silence.”
I have received the same feedback as Brendon from people in my life. These days I think people are less likely to interact with someone on the street if you were to ask them “How are you” especially considering the increasing influence technology has on people. I always admire those people who could strike up a conversation with someone in a line up at a coffee shop or a grocery store, But for me, especially as a young woman, I feel as if my guard is always up when it comes to talking to strangers. I think that feeling is definitely influenced by our society and culture. When I listen to the news, every year around summer time there is always someone attacking women on Whyte avenue at night. So how are our feelings supposed to be any different? We are constantly surrounded by these stories of people harming each other, maybe that has something to do with the trust issue we have in our city.
While I do agree with the idea that society can have influence over the individuals living in said society, I am still a very big supporter of the power of the individual. I see society and it’s written and unwritten rules as influences that can be big or small depending on our choices as individual people. So to a degree I think that individual problems can be attributed to society as a whole, but I do not agree with the idea that one person does not have the power to change his or her path or fix his or her problems. As Katie and Brendan said, technology, societal norms, and trust issues have made simply saying hello to people on the street or chatting with the person beside you at the grocery store unusual and maybe even uncomfortable. So yes, society and the norms that are established by the general population have the potential to influence your behavior on a daily basis but I believe that every single person has the opportunity to make choices every single day about their actions, and it is completely within your abilities as a human being to say “hello, how are you” to that stranger walking down the street. Of course saying “to hell with what society is telling me to do today”, and making a non-normative decision is going to be much more difficult than going with the status quo, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Society hasn’t stopped the general population from exchanging pleasantries with one another, we have all made that decision, whether conscious or unconscious. Just like the saying goes, don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t blame society for something that you have control over in your life. Society just put the influence there, it is every individuals choice whether to let that influence make their daily decisions for them.
The discussion and idea about how society influences individual people, or how much it influences people is one that I think will never actually come to a complete conclusion. I do believe that society has an affect on people but I think that to what extent that affect has is up for debate. Just like Brendan and Kaitlin has discussed I too get many comments from people telling me that I am being too nice and that I am caring too much about everything. They tell me that my life will be a lot easier if I just didn’t care. Now that may be true and I think that there are lots of things in society that have influenced people in thinking this way. For me personally, the way that I grew up and the social environment that I was in influenced me into being that over caring person. I know that personality has a lot to do with this idea of how we as individuals think however society as a whole has an influence on our personality. Now thinking in that way you may say well then why do so many people in the same society all have different personalities, and to that I believe it is because of our smaller personal “societies” that are within the whole society, so our families and our friend groups. We have so many different small parts of society influencing us that we used tad bits of every part to make ourselves into our own individual. So to answer the over all question of society affecting our personal life, yes it for sure does because society helps us shape who we are, but we as an individual person still have the capacity and power to choose how to act on our own within society.