Combination Of Written And Unwritten Rules In Society

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Social norms are a combination of written and unwritten rules. Typically, they are not something we are taught about outright. Some things like manners are taught at a young age but for the most part, we learn social norms through observing situations in our everyday lives. For example, when we are in unfamiliar settings, we look to those around us to gauge what the appropriate behavior is and then adjust our behavior accordingly. The reason social norms are put into place is to keep society running smoothly. This looks different for each and every society because norms vary from location to location. What may be seen as normal for some places can be seen as rude or odd in other places. Although we may follow the norms of our region, we may not be consciously aware of them. When we visit different locations or when people act contrary to the rules of society, we may become conscious of them. By the time we reach adulthood social norms are ingrained into us to the point that the mere thought of breaking them causes feelings of stress and anxiety.

The downfall of social norms is that those who march to the beat of their own drum will either have to conform or be ostracized. When people break norms, they are looked down on, shamed, and frowned upon. If you do not fit neatly into the box that is our society then you will not be accepted. For this reason, I felt extremely hesitant to break social norms in public. Nevertheless, I was able to muster up the courage to break two. The first was at a local college fair. I, along with one of my former professors attended this fair in order to advertise our Psychology department. There were several rows of tables, each row facing a certain direction. We had our table facing in the opposite way. It was not long before a woman came and suggested we face our table in the “right” direction. This person happened to be another representative from a different department at PNW. We did not move our table. She then sent a man over to us who proceeded to tell us to move our table. We ignored him as well. The first person came back to us and sternly told us that we should move our table to face the same direction as everyone else’s. We eventually moved our table to face the “correct” direction to appease her. The lady seemed satisfied by the fact that we listened. My former professor on the other hand felt that it was ridiculous that something so trivial was bothering others so much. My professor did not believe that we should conform our behavior to match everyone else’s. However, I was far too uncomfortable to continue. What made this task particularly difficult for me was that other people were noticeably bothered by our actions. I was very uncomfortable and anxious and felt as if there was a spotlight on us. I feel as though the lady thought there was something wrong with us. This seems to be where the fundamental error came in, it seemed she felt that we were intentionally trying to make things difficult for everyone else. She seemed almost embarrassed for being associated with the same school as us.

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The second instance of me breaking a social norm took place in a Walmart. The lines tend to be extremely long in Walmart and they typically stretch far past the aisles. Space is left in between the aisle to allow people to pass by. I stepped into this space and cut a bunch of people in line. I was very nervous to do this because I was unsure of how severe people’s reactions were going to be. Another thing that made it harder for me was that there were so many people around to witness me. The customers behind me and even those in front of me were visibly angry and confused. They immediately confronted me saying that I cut them in line and that it was unfair to those who had been waiting. They told me to get back to the end of the line to wait like everyone else. I tried to convince them that it was a mistake, but they did not seem convinced. The fundamental attribution error certainly played a role in their reactions. They were very angry and did not think that it was a mistake. I was not given the benefit of the doubt, they assumed that I was just a rude person that did not care about inconveniencing others. The atmosphere went from being relaxed to being tense just from such a simple act. Throughout the entire experience, I felt extremely embarrassed.

If I were required to break social norms every day, I would feel very uncomfortable at first. However, over time I would become desensitized to the consequences and I would become more lenient about it. Although I would be more lenient when it came to my behavior, I would likely not feel that way when it came to the behaviors of others. The fundamental attribution error would still play a role in my judgment of others. I would see them as rule-breaking heathens and myself as the exception to the rule. I would probably start making excuses as to why it was ok for me to break the social norms. As we learned from class our attitudes tend to follow our behavior. Rather than thinking “I am a bad person for breaking the norm” I would probably start to think things such as “this norm is so ridiculous.” According to our textbook “a trifling evil act can whittle down one’s moral sensitivity, making it easier to perform a worse act” (Myers $ Twenge, 2014, p. 131). In other words, committing one misdeed makes it easier to perform another misdeed. For example, people who commit smaller crimes with little to no consequences find it much easier to commit larger crimes in the future. Similarly, if I started off by breaking small social norms here and there the consequences would no longer be a big deal to me. The more norms I break the easier it would be for me to break even larger social norms.

After breaking these two social norms I noticed how much power is placed on them. Something so insignificant has the power to change how people look at you as a person. Not following these simple social rules can cause you to be outcasted by society. These situations have taught me to be more sensitive to those people who are unaware of the norms of our society. I can only imagine how much distress they are under when they are put into unfamiliar situations. I definitely ¬¬see the negative side to social norms. So much power and emphasis are placed on something so trivial. While there is a negative side to them, they do still serve an essential role in society. They provide a structure for society and allow us to know the appropriate behaviors for specific instances. This makes things more predictable and allows for less confusion. Social norms also allow for harmony amongst citizens because we have an unspoken agreement on what is acceptable and unacceptable to do. Without norms, things could become chaotic. Social norms allow you to get by in life on autopilot because if you know what is expected of you, you do not have to make a conscious effort.  


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