I have heard the saying ‘the street makes the man’ (person): in my mind this translates to the street shaping an individuals personalities. It influences his/her cultural beliefs and ideologies, shaping their outlook to life. However, when I read stories of people who lived decent productive lives despite growing up in slums and social mayhem riddled environments I can’t help wondering if ‘the street really makes the man or if the man makes the street’.
The street were we live, work or simply travel on a frequent bases does have a way of slowly infusing certain values and norms into our lives. This in itself isn’t wrong, it only becomes a problem when our life is a mirror image of the street and we depend on it for a sense of value and a gauge for determining what’s wrong or right. For example, street littering might have become a norm around where you live, no one bats an eyelid when it occurs; this does not make it right or normal. Over time, however new generations will grow up not knowing any different: the street will insidiously shape their understanding of how to treat the environment.
In this scenario, man is faced by an existing conundrum set by past precedents. He either blends in, allowing the trend to grow or he takes conscious tiny steps to live differently and tries to directly or indirectly influence those within his circle to do same. It is important to note that he must first ‘live out’ what he would want others to imitate. The second choice probably accounts for the example in the opening paragraph.
The flip side of the saying becomes true: ‘the man makes the street‘ when we think of people moving into new builds, new estates, or new continents as accounted for in history. If the new residents mistreat the area it will slowly degenerate and with time set faulty precedents for the future.When we look into history numerous examples exist of how man adapted new environment to suit him, sometimes using solutions that outlive him or his generation.
Of course these are simple examples of how the man shapes the street and how the street shapes the man. Unlike the question of which came before the other chicken or egg, I think in this case ‘the man does shape the street‘ and overtime as growth and change occurs ‘the street starts to shape the man‘. Essentially it is the ethos of society that man shapes when he takes on the street, first changing the intangible before the tangible, but sometimes the reverse must occur first especially when history is working against your objectives.
Unfortunately for us in Nigeria we have totally left the future in the hands of the street, we have allowed everything that happens become the norm. For fear of harm we do not challenge the process, for fear of isolation we do not stand for our convictions, this second part I find to be very true and prevalent in the western world. The future will never deliver what we want from it unless we stand up and grasp it in our hands; don’t let the streets shape you, shape the street to suit not just you but also posterity.