Social norms are created through both cultural values and presentation of self, with these concepts of reality being constantly learned throughout our lives by means of social interaction as well as outside influences such as media, movies, television, and even observing strangers. Through these interactions and influences we determine what is publically acceptable in our society and conform ourselves to these social norms in order to remain in sync, by upholding our self presentation and social status. For this norm breaching assignment I decided to challenge myself by attempting to disregard my self preservation and cultural values for the night.
I chose to do this exercise in Chinatown near a family member’s home because in all of my years visiting there nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. The Chinese culture is rather traditional and conservative, even on a Friday night it is very calm and peaceful. Initially I failed miserably, I was too embarrassed and unable to fully commit, so I decided to enlist some of my friends to help me out and we set out for a night of social norm breaking.
The “out of the ordinary” things we decided on doing involved breaking both cultural values and presentation of self by not upholding socially acceptable behavior, not showing courtesy, and invading others personal space. The purpose for these functions is solely to create structure and order in people’s lives, as virtually everyone focuses on being as efficient as possible, going out and upholding what is expected in our “performances”, doing what has to be done, and for all of those things to happen smoothly with out any disruptions. Maintaining these social norms standardizes the behavior of the general public and is supposed to build pro-social behavior, although that can be argued. We violated “the norm” in many ways that night, most of them being pretty simple once breaking through our usual in-public manners. The people downtown that day was a combination of all types of people and ages which gave us a lot of different responses. We started off by walking in between couples that were holding hands, in which the women became very angry and the men would either laugh or seem confused. One of the women even followed us for a while and stood behind us at a crossing light but said nothing to us. I believe they grew angry because they felt as though we were entering they’re territory, as silly as that sounds.
I even held hands with a friend and walked through a couple holding hands, as a couple holding hands and the responses were consistently negative. Next, we decided to all ballerina twirl around a man walking down the street. He weaved from side to side in order to avoid us and then ran across the street as if in fear for his life. The response we got was hilarious at the time, but I am still curious as to why he displayed such a strong response to girls twirling around him. We then attempted to get people to exercise with us on the street. The people whom we were trying to “motivate” just walked passed us and the on lookers gave us confused stares and laughs. We also ran behind a middle aged man drill sergeant style, shouting numbers and “come on’s” to get him to exercise with us. I would have understood if this man ran away, but he just continued walking as if nothing happened. I believe the people we were trying to motivate to exercise were definitely surprised, though they’re facial expressions did not let on they’re body language seemed different after encountering us. After that, we tried something a bit more subtle by asking strangers to take a picture for us and then posing with them for the picture, in which the men obliged and then asked us to send the photo to them.
This attempt to break a norm surprised me more than surprising them, because the responses were very positive instead of confusion or disapproval, which is what I expected. The strangers were happy that random people wanted a picture with them, and I am confident this was the reaction because the people we asked all happened to be men. Next, I decided to ask a young boy smoking a cigarette who was probably no older than 15 years old if I could have one of his cigarettes, he reached and gave me one only to realize I was breaking it in half and telling him that smoking was bad for him. He looked very annoyed at first and as his friend burst out laughing he began to laugh as well. Although he still seemed angry at me it felt good to do this as I objected to a young child smoking, even though it was very rude of me. I am certain he was upset because cigarettes are expensive and for me to have just wasted it definitely offended him, he was courteous enough to give me one only to be treated like a child and told it was wrong that he was smoking. I understand why he would be displeased with me for those reasons, because he most likely sees nothing wrong with smoking. I have witnessed throughout my life a large majority of Chinese men smoke regularly starting at young ages with no criticism from adults.
You could say that it is typical in the Asian culture to see young men smoking, as opposed to the western culture where there would most likely be some sort of social shame towards that young person. In a sense he was breaking one of my cultural norms and I was doing the shunning by verbally criticizing him. Some of the other social norms we decided to test that night included invading the personal space of couples who were talking, by standing very closely and engaging in their conversations as if it was completely normal. This produced mixed responses with some of the couples simply walking away not seeming fazed at all, some laughing, and some viewing us as deviants and asking “can I help you?” or “do you need something?” Out of all of the exercises we’d done, this was the most difficult for me because I was genuinely embarrassed and found it very challenging to keep my composure. The reactions were recurrent with the younger adults laughing and having a sense of humor towards my behavior and the older adults seeming irritated and mad as if I was being very disrespectful. I am sure this has to do with the fact that younger adults are more accustomed to “foolish” behavior as older adults are more traditional and respectful. It was a very uncomfortable experience for me and after this exercise I decided I had enough for one night. On the way back to our cars we sang children songs and skipped around people on the streets. This had a playful and cheery response from most of the people we encountered, as they laughed or gave strange looks as if they thought we were drunk.
I really enjoyed doing this and would absolutely do it again next time I go out. The final thing we settled on doing was scooting on our butts down the grocery store aisles as people were shopping, with all of the people displaying the same facial reaction, confusion. No doubt that anyone who sees someone scooting on they’re behinds anywhere would show the same response because walking is what is expected and normal for people who are able to walk. All of the social norms we overlooked involved disregarding our self presentation, we accomplished this by walking in between couples who were holding hands and ballerina twirling around the street, we also achieved this by trying to motivate people to exercise with us in public, skipping and singing children songs around people, and scooting on our behinds through grocery store aisles as customers were shopping. In addition to not upholding our self preservation, we also broke cultural values by not showing courtesy, as I asked someone for a cigarette and instead of smoking it, breaking it, and not respecting others personal space or privacy. By not adhering to the expectations of what is usually socially acceptable we experienced various responses from all different types and ages of people. Some paying no mind to us, there were strange, confused, crazy and surprised looks given, there was laughter, annoyance, anger, and even fear all depending on the situation, age and gender of the person. I consider all of these reactions average because our behavior was out of the ordinary and people were caught off guard, especially in such a quiet area like Chinatown were I would say people are generally accustomed to more collective and traditional behavior than say in downtown Chicago.
When first attempting this exercise I felt extremely self-conscious and uncomfortable especially when invading others personal space, but as the night went on I began to have a great time testing my courage and trying not to feel pressured into behaving a certain way simply because it is what society expects of me. Breaking these norms was difficult none the less, and I am not sure I would have been brave enough to do it without my friends. Over all this was wonderful experience feeling that type of freedom and behaving the way I wanted to and not how I was supposed to. After this exercise I decided that “normal” is most definitely over rated and breaking through the pressure of not conforming is much more difficult than I expected it to be. I hope to have the courage to continue to find ways to break norms and not limit myself to only behaving the way others do, but in a way that makes me happy.
Cite this Breaking Social Norms Exercise
Breaking Social Norms Exercise. (2016, Oct 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/breaking-social-norms-exercise/