Are Norms Really Normal?


Have you ever felt pressure to fit in?

You might feel like there are so many unwritten rules you must follow to be apart of the culture around you.  This, thankfully, is not an uncommon experience for college students—and anyone for that matter.  All around us there are things called norms that shape our society and our beliefs. Norms simply are the unspoken expectations we have of others.  For example, we expect our fellow class-mates to be quiet in class, stay off their phones, and not talk while there is a lecture.  These are not written rules, but just generally accepted guidelines for courteous behavior.

Our culture around us tells us what to wear, what to watch on tv, who to date, and what kind of car to drive.  When we do not live up to these certain expectations of us, we feel a sense of inferiority to others.  Why is this?  The unspoken rules around us yield so much power that we do not even recognize.  Culture is something that defines a society, and something that people live their lives based off of—at least most people.  These unspoken rules define how we act and how we expect others to act as well.

When social norms like these are broken, people tend to be quick to judge you.  If you do not wear clothes that are considered acceptable, if you are dating someone who is not socially in the “in-crowd,” if you do not watch all the popular TV shows, you are seen as someone who isn’t worthy to befriend. This can hurt us, but as much as this is painful when others judge us because of these things, we do the exact same thing when we see others who break norms around us.  How can we escape the control that norms have over us?  Well, many sociologists would say that, in general, we cannot change this mindset and automatic prejudices we hold against those we deem as different. However, it can be argued that we can change our own thinking to start to be kinder and more accepting of others.

Although we cannot change the macro level of our entire society’s beliefs, we can change our own personal thoughts.  With small change comes larger, more profound change. If we stop having prejudiced attitudes about the “strange” things people do, and start trying to think about their side of things, we can impact others who are also judging these people.  We can be examples of kindness and respect in our community which can encourage others to do the same.  UCBA could become a place where there are people from all walks of life befriending one another—not gossiping and spreading rumors. Positivity goes a long way, and we need to start with ourselves.

About Hannah Roberts

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