Interesting Observation: Social Norms

Having participated in a discussion about social norms recently, I realized something that I don’t think anyone else there picked up on.

There are way more social norms than we usually think there are. Many things are social norms, even if we wouldn’t think they are. To help identify a few, here’s the definition which I’ll use:

A social norm is something the majority of society does/finds normal

Using that definition, you can find more social norms by realizing a few things about them:

  • Possibly the easiest to realize, something can be bad and still be a social norm (slavery in pre-civil war ear, for example, and smoking nowadays)
  • The next easiest to realize might be that something can be the right thing to do and still be a social norm (not interrupting someone who is talking is the right thing to do, and a social norm; it’s also a social norm to let the other person talk sometimes so that they don’t need to interrupt you in the first place)
  • Less easy to notice, something can be both common sense and a social norm (driving on the right side of the street, for example, is a social norm. Obeying the law is too,  although for some laws (such as the speed limit), it has become the social norm to not strictly obey)
  • Even harder to notice, something can be nearly unnoticeable and still be a social norm (eating 3 meals a day is a social norm, and so is waking up before noon during a weekday)
  • And the strangest of all, something can be “of course you don’t do that” and still be a social norm (of course we don’t randomly punch people in the face, but it’s still a social norm. Not punching someone in the face is, after all, “something the majority of society does/finds normal”)

The last one is the most interesting to think about. There are so many things which are “yeah duh, of course we don’t do that”, which I hadn’t even thought of as social norms. Of course we don’t randomly set fire to forests. Yes, it’s common sense. Yes, it’s the right thing to do. Yes, it seems crazy to even think about doing on purpose. And yes, it’s a social norm.

~ George

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