Solnit and Gladwell Essay

Topics: New York City, Emotion, Human Pages: 5 (1817 words) Published: December 6, 2012
Nature vs. Nurture
Although people have their own thoughts and emotions as they are walking along the blocks of a town or city, one can only wonder what the city is actually telling them. Picturesque scenes may evoke thoughts of wonder and hope, but the opposite can be true for the urbanite of the city. Walls littered with graffiti, subway cars covered with trash and vandalism, prostitutes lurking on corners and all around waste that stud the city with the stereotypical “dirtiness” give a clear description of the trouble that lie in the city borders. For the rest of the metropolis, the choice is very well pronounced: live with the dirt and grime or try and fight it for the good of the community. In Malcolm Gladwell’s story, “The Power of Context: Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime”, Gladwell describes that human behavior is deeply affected by our environment. Along the same lines, in the short story “The Solitary Stroller and the City”, the author Rebecca Solnit delves into her own life and the lives of others to explore the role that humans encompass while being individuals on the street. Solnit considers walking to be that of an individual account and a time for deep thought about what is around us. Speculating that instead of just being walkers on the street, these people are a part of society and have a say in the city that surrounds them. She writes, “The streets are where people become the public and where their power resides” (Solnit 576). When reading about both authors points of view about people and society, it’s really the personal backgrounds of the people that change the way the city looks and works. A city does not come to violence due to the city itself but rather the individuality that each person occupies as they walk through it and carry the emotions that were brought upon them from previous experiences. Therefore, the environment does not explicitly impact an individual but rather it is the social interactions that the individual grew up with that shape him or her into who they will be Once in the presence of society, people take on an unmediated view that they should do what others are doing, otherwise known as conformity. When in this unknown environment, such as one in which a person is surrounded by strangers, people hide their own identities and “imagine the secrets of the people that one passes” (Solnit 585).This psychological phenomenon is the basis upon many human emotions and is the foundation of Gladwell’s story. The Broken Windows theory describes exactly the consequences of conformity and is thoroughly noted by Gladwell, “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes”, producing a pattern of criminal behavior (Gladwell 237). Thus, a small problem in a city can actually be the premise for much larger problems. Gladwell continues, “Crime is contagious- just as a fashion trend is contagious- that it can start with a broken window and spread to an entire community” (Gladwell 238) In turn, this crime is believed by Gladwell to be due to the negative effects of the environment on the people and not actually because of the people themselves. Similar to how religious environments promote a specific type of attitude or behavior, the filthy conditions of the subway condone criminal behavior. Conformity is not only invoked by the streets but as Gladwell states it can also be a form of persuasion, “One was the study that showed how people who watched Peter Jennings on ABC were more likely to vote Republican than people who watch either Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather because, in some unconscious way, Jennings was able to signal his affection for Republican candidates” (Gladwell 243). Our emotions and individuality are “actually...
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