Common Courtesy in Our Society
In every society, there are norms established that are used as laws, with no consequences if you decide to break them (Schaefer 48). I decided to break a social norm to see other people’s reactions to my out of the ordinary behavior. One type of social norm is an informal norm, which is a generally understood behavior that is not written down as a law (Schaefer 49). An example of an informal norm in the United States is asking someone how they are doing as a form of courtesy to others.
However, the usual response is ‘good’ or ‘fine’, to avoid overwhelming others in casual conversations, when sometimes they don’t even care. We have learned behaviors of being courteous and considerate of others, without actually needing to have the concern. Cultural vales are collective conceptions of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a society, and influences the behaviors of those people (Schaefer 51). Our cultural values are kindness, helping others, dependency and politeness.
Those values, are related to our behaviors, such as, asking people how they are doing. With that being said, I decided to experiment with this social norm. Instead of responding to “how are you doing”, I decided to tell my whole life story and reveal my actual problems to a stranger. I said, “I’m not okay, my mother just died, I do not know where I am going to live, because I do not have a job and cannot pay the bills for the house we lived in, I do not want to be homeless, I’m all alone, can you help me”.
The subject replied in shock with my response, he said, “um, I don’t know what to tell you, but I don’t know how I can help you” The subject wondered why I told him my problems looking for help, I said, “ Well you asked me how I was doing, and I just simply responded”. I knew the response he was looking for, but I did not give it to him because I wondered what the reaction would be to a different response to that question. I was given a negative sanction to my behavior, which is a penalty for conduct concerning a social norm (Schaefer 50).
The sanction was the negative response to my behavior, the look the subject gave me and the words he said to me that were not helpful or the lack of encouragement to do it again. I tried this experiment with another person, whom I knew this time. I ran into one of my friends, and we asked each other how we have been; she responded “great” and I responded with, “life has not been treating me well, my fiance and I broke up right before the wedding, after me and my family already went bankrupt because of it, and now I don’t even have a husband or a job”.
The response of the subject was a little different this time, because she actually was my friend, so she replied with concern and willingness to help me through my struggles in life. The difference in this trial was that we actually did care for each other, so we meant it when we wanted to know how each other was. When a stranger asks how you are, they don’t mean it, it is simply a form of courtesy to seem like a nice and caring person, because another cultural value we have is the way we look to others.
I did many other trials, and some people asked the question without waiting for a response, or if I gave one kept walking, to show they didn’t care at all in the first place. Our concern of our reputation is more important than others in our eyes, our society is very selfish because of many forms of competition that exist for survival in our nation and the modern world. Competition also influences our behavior because we want to seem better than everyone else, to get more out of life than others.
I was not surprised of the responses I got, because I am aware of this social norm, however I do not ask people how they are doing when I do not mean it. I think that you should not pretend to have a concern when you do not, just so you can look better or feel like a good person. “How are you? ” is not a greeting that should be given to everyone, it is something you ask seldom, when you really would like to know. Afterward, I told some of the subjects about my experiment, and asked if they were aware that “How are you? ” became a greeting, with a non expectant of a response.
The subjects agreed and told me that they hadn’t realized it, or were aware and thought that no one would ever break the norm. I would like to experiment with all of the social norms, to see how everyone would react, because every society has standards to follow. In my opinion, norms are allowed to be broken because they are not documented as laws, and have no consequences if being broken. There are only negative sanctions as consequences, as long as you do not harm others or break any formal laws. A formal norm is, a law that has been written down, and has a strict punishment of its’ violators.