It was around six in the afternoon. The Lexington Avenue station was too crowded as usual. Some Mexican men were performing music on the side. The music felt very pleasant among annoying sounds of squeaking wheels and closing doors of the train. I was waiting for Queens bound N train on my way to home. I noticed an adult woman with an approximately 5/6 years old girl rushing towards empty seats close to where I was standing.  In such a crowded station empty seats? Yes, because it was occupied by a homeless man. Nobody was willing to sit close to him because of the odor from his body and his belongings. Noticing that homeless man, that woman did not sit down and neither allowed her insisting daughter to sit. She right away stepped back and made herself comfortable along with other people standing on the side. Perhaps in fear of getting annoying looks from others!

NYC, being a rough and tough city, people do not care much about what others are doing, especially in subways where everybody is in a rush. But they of course do care of their status and what they are doing – what others are seeing. People do not want to line themselves along something below the social orders/norms. Here, in this particular setting, people including that woman were behaving as they were somewhat superior and hence by sitting along with a homeless person would lower their social status by breaking a social order. And that woman was not even letting her child to sit to whom it does not make any difference whether it is a homeless man or other people. I think this is the way that parents (in this case a mother) teach their child about social norms and orders. By acting out themselves parents engrave such unwritten, unsaid societal norms within a child from her childhood. This makes me think that if this is not the case, then in above scenario, that woman should have allowed her daughter to sit next to that homeless man. I would do the same thing regardless of my situation, whether calm or in a rush, beginning of the day when I am fresh or later at night when  I am dead tired. The only time I would sit next to a  person like him would be when nobody is around.

I think a society is an intricate pattern of human interactions. Where people tend to shape themselves through the society’s interpersonal interactions and are most likely to do what others do in general. This perspective is much more profound in children who are most likely to copy and follow their elders (esp. parents). As a result, there are certain kinds of order which everybody follows as a norm. And violating that norm and social order means degrading one’s status from the society. Thus, people endow their surrounding environment with shared values and hence reproducing social order.

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One response

  1. For those who have lived in NYC,taking public transportation is a common and frequent experience. I do agree that our actions perpetuate the setting of social norms and standards. I myself am not a mother but I can only imagine being on the train with a child and having the responsibility to keep the child safe. It is not right what the mother did but I think she did have the child’s best interest in mind. The mother may also have thought that if she did let her child sit next to this homeless person that she would be judged by the other riders regarding her ability to mother properly. Whatever that case may have been, like you said, none of us would sit next to him not necessarily because he was homeless, but possibly because of the potential exposure to filth and what other may think. Situations like this makes me realize how much our actions are affected by the stigma society places on certain types of individuals, which further affects those individuals that are stigmatized.