Social norms are the regulations of conduct that are considered suitable for a group or society. Individuals who do not follow these patterns are typically avoided or suffer some consequences. Norms usually change according to the setting or situation and may change or be modified over time. Knowledge of the social norms helps people decide on how to act in a given situation. Since there is a vast multitude of behaviors that one can engage in, social norms help people to forecast the actions of others without being subjected to random, disordered behavior. Without social norms, the human would not know how to act in specific situations, leaving them unable to intermingle understandably with each other. Each social status involves its particular set of prospects about proper way to behave. Social norms, therefore, provide order in society as they direct our behavior, to give predictability in social relationships and also to make sense of and understanding of each others actions. As one moves from country to country and group to group, it is important to know and implement the appropriate social norms. Social norms are also an important aspect of the society by making behavior orderly and patterned, safeguarding our values, maintaining social order of society, creating social cohesions and social solidarity and also by promoting self-control among the people.
Although not considered as to be formal laws within society, norms still work to support an excellent idea of social control. Social norms can be imposed formally e.g. through sanctions or informally through body language and non-verbal communication. As social beings, we, therefore, learn when and where it is appropriate to say certain things, use particular words, to discuss certain topics or wear certain clothes, and when it is not. Conformism to norms is qualified by socially defined situations and varies in different groups.
My assignment, therefore, deals with the observation of the various reactions of other people by breaking a social norm. I have to come up with something that I will have to do eventually that makes people feel uncomfortable. Most people have a personal space that they dont like being violated. I, therefore, thought of breaking this social norm by invading other peoples personal space, including strangers. Typically, when two people meet, they shake hands. This is a universally accepted social norm. So with these handshake patterns, I put some to trial to see how I felt and how others reacted. I would introduce myself and offer to shake their hands by sticking my hand out. I would also try my best not to let them go until our conversation was over. It seemed quite uncomfortable for me too at first, but it became quite comfortable with time. How a handshake is performed is crucial as it portrays your personality to the other person. If there were other people around, most would look at them to see if anyone else thought it a little strange that I had not let go of their hand. It was also difficult for them to concentrate on our discussion as they felt uncomfortable. It created an awkward moment after some of the handshakes with people trying to comprehend why I was offering such a long handshake. Some of the respondents felt too uncomfortable and let go of my hand at once. It proved to me that, as social beings, it's hard to change some of the norms that people have identified themselves with. They did not say anything to me directly, but the awkwardness they felt was so evident in their expressions and how they would talk to each other after I got there compared with before I got there. There were also plenty of strange feelings that came my way from other people after the long handshakes.
It made me appreciate that it is not acceptable in the society for an individual to have a prolonged handshake while having a conversation unless there is a justifiable reason. A simple handshake is a social norm that entails in almost every society. It is also part of cultures of communities, and it is, therefore, tough to change the rule. Socially speaking, I learned that I am part of a society and that I live by the norms of the society like respecting other peoples personal space. It was evident in instances where I was not comfortable before offering a prolonged handshake. This experiment also helped me realize that individuals in the society we live in adhere to social norms and if broken, they lead to a sense of confusion.
Social norms are therefore an important aspect of the society as they define appropriate behavior for every social group. We all need social norms to guide and direct our behavior, to offer order and expectedness in social relations and to make good sense of and understanding of each others actions. Through social norms, we conform to the anticipations of others, respond to others approval when we play our parts well, and to their disapproval when we play them poorly.
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