It is not difficult to assess the degree to which an individual is affected by the environment in which he lives. We know that climatic and social surroundings are no less influential. We know also that a person is born with the basic characteristics which are going to shape his personality and eventually his destiny. We can safely say that the interactions of both heredity and environment produce the individual. It would be interesting to analyse the effects of environment on the personality and activities of the individual. Social surroundings have an undisputed influence on people. Traditions and customs are the results of social relations in a group of people. These are often impressed on the individual who may either adopt them or oppose them. The individual often finds himself in conflict with such traditional institutions as marriage, family, religion and other established customs. The individual who rejects traditions is condemned by society and often ostracised. Individuals often have to fight against traditions. This continued opposition reveals the influence that such traditions have.
The majority are just passively shaped by these traditions that have been inculcated in them from the cradle through school to adult life. Our basic personality is formed by society. 3 The powerfulness of social environment can also be seen in the everyday language we speak. The mother tongue is so called because the child assimilates naturally the language spoken by its mother. It is a scientific concept that all humans are “programmed” with the language ability, but what we speak depends on the social environment.
The new-born Eskimo, if placed in an English-speaking environment, will grow up to speak English like the English. The mother tongue is learned in conditions different from those in which a second or foreign language is learned. The accent adopted by the individual also reveals the social milieu where he has picked up the language. Only the highly educated can hide their native accents. 4 The behaviour of the individual is often the direct result of social influences on him.
It has been established that people exposed to harsh economic conditions are likely to turn to crime more easily than others. Though research has shown that criminal tendencies are inborn, that is of genetic origin, there is no doubt that social conditions help to externalise these tendencies in the individual. Whenever a society goes through severe economic conditions, like a recession, the crime rate tends to increase. The mass media have also been suspected to influence the criminal bent of people, especially the weaker individual who cannot think for himself. The unchanging geographical and climatic surroundings in which people grow have considerable effects on them as members of a social group. If today there are distinct national characteristics, it is because each group has been exposed to distinct physical or natural environments. Examples are numerous. The Eskimo is short and stocky because his cold, icy environment requires him to be so to survive. The people living along the Equator are tall and thin so as to resist the heat.
The colour of our skins has been fixed by the amount of sunshine we have been exposed to for generations. The Tibetans and Bolivians have large chests because their lungs have over the millennia become enlarged by the effort to breathe in rarefied oxygen in their high mountainous environment. 6 Eating and clothing habits, work activities, amusements are also directly dictated by physical environment. Those living along the coasts are likely to become sailors or fishermen. People’s activities throughout the world are conditioned by the landscape in which they live.
The native Maori was a fisherman and a hunter, and therefore a flesh-eater. The Yorkshire boy until recently grew up to be a miner. It is only modern science and technology that have succeeded to some extent in decreasing the influence of environment on people’s activities. Primitive man used only what his immediate environment provided. Trappers in the north of America, Europe and Asia wore furs provided by their natural environment. 7 It is also generally accepted that weather and climate influence our character and mood.
Weather influences mood because both are changeable. We are sullen when the weather is gloomy. We are lively and cheerful when the weather is fine. Poetry and songs in all times and regions have celebrated the coming of spring with cheerfulness and liveliness on the part of people. Also, in periods of heat or cold, our moods change for the worse or better. Astrologers and geomancers are convinced that stars and planets including earth influence and mark our lives in all their aspects – from character to intelligence, from luck to health, even life and death.