The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Unspoken rules that are the inevitable, intangible forces that yield supreme authority when it comes to most social settings, norms are in charge of running the society as a whole. The legitimacy of these ‘norms’ remains uncontested yet questionable, simultaneously. When I think about norms, the multiformity of my opinions materializes on two ends of a spectrum. Either I think of norms as implicit guidelines that are widely understood and are reprehensible for keeping everything in line or I think of them as proscriptive preliminaries to a society that is replete with more hindrances than freedom.
So, through this article, I will try to explore the dichotomy of this dilemma and possibly try to arrive at a conclusion that is not very conflicting. You might wonder what a society without any norms and rules would be like. For starters, it might not be very functional as an anarchy because as civil as human beings are, they require a set of guidelines to keep them away from doing things that would be wrong on multiple levels. But then, when we follow norms that are passed onto us from older generations, we act out of courtesy and coercion rather than individual choice. It is much like peer pressure, but from the elderly. Hence, it becomes crucial to find an alternative that saves us not only from utter lawlessness but also unwanted generational subterfuge.
Norms and conformity go hand in hand therefore it is important to know what conformity means. According to www.britannica.com , “Conformity is the process whereby people actively change their beliefs, attitudes, actions or perceptions to more closely match those held by groups to which they belong or want to belong or by groups whose approval they desire. Conformity has important social implications” For some people, it might be frightening to not follow a norm that has existed for so many years but we must also understand that compliance and gratification are closely linked to each other. People only comply and confirm to norms because of social gratification. Once we take away the element of gratification as well as acceptance from malpractices, the level of conformity also reduces substantially.
Now, when we talk about norms, a discernment can be made between cultures and societies that are either too strict with their rules or are not very rigid. It is understandable why certain cultures in the past have been extremely strict with their rules and norms. But what we must also realize is that the times have changed. While the knowledge and experiences of older generations are enriching for the younger generations, their values, ideas and principles may have become obsolete and perhaps too orthodox for today’s society. When I say this, I refer to the discriminatory and oppressive practices that used to be a very prevalent aspect of their time. No community now has the right to make any other community feel violated. This is the difference between what was historically acceptable and what is currently socially acceptable. Unfair, discriminatory and highly oppressive practices were historically very pervasive but now most of them are punishable offenses and, if not, they are at least frowned upon. This means that just because something is or was a norm does not mean that it is normal.
The newer generations are accused of being too permissive in nature. But when you put that theory to test, the newer generations are only accepting of things that are associated with a sense of liberation. People that belong to the communities that faced relentless oppression in the past now have the freedom to express themselves freely. The newer generations try to foster an environment of peace and acceptance for all communities. But, the history of judgement and perspicacity is so deeply entrenched and indoctrinated into the world that acceptance does not come very easily.
For example, when I ponder about norms, the first thought that automatically comes to my mind is people reacting to the way other people dress. I understand why sometimes a particular outfit might evoke a gasp or a sigh but it is not as uncommon as it should be for people to blatantly pass judgement and make crude remarks when they see someone dressed in clothing that they seem to regard as unconventional or inappropriate. And when I say this, I talk about all genders alike. Everyone leaps at the first opportunity to trash everyone. This is just an exhibit of the flagrant disregard people have for choices of other people. This brings me to the question- why is choice not a norm but unfair judgement is?
While a few decades ago, choice must have been a privilege because of a myriad of social obstacles, it shouldn’t be such a rarity as of now. The evolutionary nature of the existence of everything is the reason why we are where we are. Therefore, moving forward, evolving as the times evolve is the only pragmatic approach to this predicament. Years of cultural homogenization have resulted in people wearing whatever they want and representing themselves however they like. Thus, respect and acceptance for people’s choices is an example of the neo-cultural norms that trace back their existence to homogenization, globalization and evolution.
Therefore, with the changes that herald us, it is very important to bring about new norms and rules. Even if we want to preserve the norms that have been passed onto us, we have to make certain alterations to them for them to be acceptable with regard to the current social scenario. Hence, norms can act as guidelines without having to seem so suppressive and restraining if they lack the element of obsolescence and coercion.