Society is more than just a collection of individuals. Rather, the society has features that are more than just the sum of all the individuals connected to it. Johnson’s (1997) book The Forest and the Trees, presented a highly readable account of what sociology is all about and what topics the discipline is interested about. Social life is complex and at times confusing, and in order to understand it, a level of understanding of sociology may be necessary.
Johnson, through his book, seeks to present the discipline of Sociology as simple as possible without compromising the important contributions of the field to the society and in the thinking of people. He cites examples and anecdotes which exemplify his idea that sociological thinking is very much active in the minds of people, only that a lot of people are not aware of this. Johnson takes complex sociological issues such as gender relations, capitalism and family relationships, environmental destruction and the role of humans in it. He uses simple language so that his audience, which is most likely composed of undergraduate students, can understand easily the sociological concepts and ideas he is expounding on.
Johnson’s description of the complex relationships and statuses of people involved in a family is new to me. He said that there are only three people participating in the family system yet the roles in the family becomes as much as eight. His explanation is simple yet the implications are profound. The way that Johnson explains his ideas is his strength. His use of examples and anecdotes is also superb in highlighting the issues and ideas he focuses on. His idea of the paths of least resistance is not very clear and might have required a greater level of clarity and deeper explanation.
Analyzing Social Problems
Following the title of the book, Johnson would want to look at the forest more than just a collection of individual trees. What needs to be explored is the nature of the relationships going on between the different individuals and sectors in the society. These relationships may show the processes of social interactions. As such, the role of people in these processes can be identified and the social problem can be analyzed in a more systematic way.
Johnson proposed the idea that individuals are always connected to some things that are larger than themselves. These “larger” things may be understood in terms of a system that produces the outcomes in the society. In these systems within the society, there are power relations—there is the privileged class who takes their privileges for granted but is there nonetheless.
These privileges govern the rules through which the privileged class relates to other people within the society. These factors that affect these relationships are important in ascertaining the source of conflict and problem in the society. Although some problem may be systemic and difficult, observation of the interrelationships between and among the trees in the forest yields great insight in understanding the society and the social problem under consideration.
It is also important to take a look at the system in which the particular social problem occurred and analyze what makes it work. The system in itself, affects the thinking and the behavior of the people who belong to that system. In addition to looking at a system, the paths of least resistance should also be analyzed so that the roles of individuals in the system would be defined and understood well. By taking into account these factors, social problems may be analyzed effectively.
Forests: My Own Experience
In my own experience, my childhood and even my life is connected to several forests. For one, my family has taken care of me since I was a child and made it possible for me to go to school, to develop my sense of identity and mold me into who I am now. The relationship is not always smooth. There have been instances where disagreements, conflicts of roles and expectations erupt at home. The result would be a strain in the relationship—some strains last longer than others and at times, there are minor conflicts which just seem to disappear like a bubble.
In the family, through the years, my role has changed. When I was a child, I depended on my parents for nourishment and they provided it to me freely. Since they were my parents, they were following some of the basic rules and expectations in the society and they had to take care of me.
As I grew older, they guided me through school and supported me. As I grew older, I also learned how to earn money by myself and so the pattern of dependence was broken and I had the option to buy the things I want without their permission. Through this experience, my relationship with them has been redefined and no longer became one of dependence.
Through the family, I also learned how to be showered with affection and give it back to them. The basic lessons for social interactions, I also learned from the family. Through this social system, I became aware of what was acceptable in the society and what was not.
In addition to the family as a forest in my life, the school is another social system where I got involved and learned a great deal about social interactions, rewards, punishments, and learning ideas and concepts I would need as I grew older. The lessons from the school system made it possible for me to graduate and learn the things I would need for professional life. Although I am an individual, I am invariably affected by other people and by the systems of rewards and punishment that people employ. If I wanted to graduate, I would have to study well and meet the requirements of the course of study.
There are also a lot of social interactions in the school, which calls for the sociological mindset to be in place. Relationships among teachers and students are governed by power relations as much as social interactions. Among students, there are also different groups and associations that add new roles to them on top of being students, and these roles add complexities to the relationships the have with other individuals in the campus.
Through the sociological thinking expounded upon by Johnson, I was made aware of the different roles that students have. An individual may take the role of a student, a leader in the school, a model student, and others depending on the social context that they are in. The idea of roles and the multiplicity of roles that Johnson talked about is very helpful in understanding the different motivations, issues, and the intricacies of these relationships.
To understand social issues and systems, it would be important to look at both individuals and the social system and relationships that they have. Otherwise, the understanding would be incomplete and will not be very deep. Looking only at individuals will lead to subjectivity and near-sightedness and would not take into account the greater social context and relationships.
Path of Least Resistance
Johnson explained that people usually follow paths of least resistance in their actions and behaviors and that is what makes them predictable. These paths of least resistance follow the roles of expectations on the kind of role and status that an individual occupies in the society.
When a policeman seeks to control the flow of traffic or apprehends a criminal, he is acting based on the capacity of his status as a policeman. Lovers, government officials, and professionals among others follow these paths of least resistance because these are expected from them. Children, fathers and mothers, likewise follow these paths because of these social expectations. Because of these paths, patterns of behavior are established and it is easier to predict and analyze the behaviors of people in the social context that they are in.s
In my case, I have also followed the paths of least resistance throughout my life. As a student, I was expected to complete the course requirements and participate in the discussions in the class. However, there are also other student statuses in the school. There are good, average, and mediocre students. I have had my fair share of being an average student and went on to attend parties, absent myself from classes. Yet, as an individual, I was aware that I am supposed to finish my studies and therefore I followed another path of least resistance and that is to push through to complete my studies. This path of least resistance therefore was founded upon my realization of the expectations from me and this was bolstered by my own desire to finish it.