Often the relationship between individuals and society is a two-way street. Certainly, it’s obvious that the society one is born into makes a lasting impact on the development of one’s self and moral ideals. For example, the individuals that Kozol focuses on in his narrative in the South Bronx often explain the society they live and how it affects them. Just as Reverend Gregory Groover explains to Kozol the conditions of the South Bronx and how individuals attempt to interact with their society. “People protest specific actions of the city. They protested the waste burner but there’s a sense of powerlessness that makes it hard to keep up a momentum. The reality of the streets is a continuing reminder and compelling reenactment of despair” (Kozol 91). The society in which they live in makes it hard for everyday people to form together in groups for a common goal. All they have observed in this environment is the pain and suffering on the streets.
Perhaps as Paul Loeb describes in the second chapter of Soul of a Citizen, titled We Don’t Have to Be Saints, the foremost issue of becoming socially active is that we often think the great political changers must be greater than ourselves and heroes of a society. As Loeb describes the ideas of Sonya Vetra Tinsley an Atlanta activist and what she sees as the greatest obstacles that face activism today and how others have attempted to deal with it. “…Before we will allow ourselves to action on an issue, we must be convinced not only that the issue the world’s most important, but we understand it perfectly… and that we ourselves have perfect moral character” (Loeb 46). It appears that individual is forced to think that their cause is the greatest and it requires the complete and perfect person to accomplish the goal in mind. In this mindset, it appears that the individual could never hope to change society, humans by nature are imperfect and in this theory, could never bring about change that they deemed so worthy of a cause to pursue.
To avoid the trap of perfect moral or perfect person concept, we should first start out by engaging in smaller, more local, issues. The idea of starting out smaller allows the individuals who became engaged in the issue to follow any potential possibilities that may resulted in the first initial step. This concept isn’t widely shown in Kozol’s Amazing Grace, one may argue that giving out clean needles may be a first step; however, I would argue that do so is only making the conditions of the drug addicts worse. It only enables them to continue down their misguided path without solving their issue. This issue is also raised in another context in Amazing Grace. The individuals living in the housing often don’t seem care enough to bring about changes of their living conditions. “The Stairway smells and its walls are smeared with something green-ish…The kennel where I leave my dog where I leave my dog while I am in New York is cleaner and smells better” (Kozol 119). Granted this example shows how a corporation, the kennel, has a vested interest in keeping its surroundings clean, but shouldn’t the individuals living in the South Bronx feel the same way? Perhaps this is the society they’ve grown accustomed to and feel the conditions are just for the area in which they live in. However, I would argue instead of feeling content, they should be trying to better themselves, just as the rich or powerful attempt to do.
The dynamic relationship between individuals and our respective societies could potentially weigh more on us than what we initial thought. The actions of individuals directly affect the society in which they live, whether that’s allowing drug dealers to conduct their business in front of your apartment, or taking a vested interest in the crisis of addiction to drugs in some areas. However, our culture and society also puts pressure onto the individual, perhaps even shaping some the actions that we deem as possible. If we live in squalor and assume that is all we will ever get to live in, we assume nothing can be done about it. However, I would argue that instead of assuming things can never change, it would be more beneficial if one was to organize others into taking on the issue or attempting to solve it individually. The first action that some individuals take can open many more possibilities to accomplish, or at least attempt to, their goals.