Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are Norms Necessary?

After reading a couple of blog posts of my colleagues on the topic of norms (These Unwritten Rules Called Norms & Norms…it can be a scary thing). I started to wonder if norms are necessary for society to function harmoniously. There has been some discussion concerning the notion of not conforming and not following the norm, but I think this just causes problems for the most part. But what happens if we don’t agree with the norms put in place? Should we still follow them?

Being a polite and respectful member of society is important in my opinion. We should be open to following norms in public such as waiting in line, walking in an organized manner in high traffic areas, holding doors open for each other, and keeping our outbursts to a minimum. However, like Brandie mentioned in her post, what if the opposite becomes the norm … should we still follow it? I think for the most part, the norms in our society are put in place to keep everyone happy and to encourage people to behave “properly” in public. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t like when people don’t follow the norms when it affects me (well maybe I only care about the “common courtesy” norms…). I feel as though they think they are above being polite and waiting their turn.

I used the example of going to the movies in my comment on Vanessa’s blog. It just blows me away what some people do – especially when it’s busy. People push, are upset about waiting in line, talk through the whole movie, make loud annoying predictions about when Eric Bana will show up next in The Time Travelers Wife, and so on. I would be embarrassed if I did things like this in public. However, there are no repercussions for people who don’t follow these simple norms, other than my built up anger of course, so why not do whatever you want?

I realize that conforming and following norms when you don’t agree with them is not a good thing, I just feel that perhaps society needs some norms in order to function cordially.

Even though I clearly had a bad experience with people not following the norms… go see A Christmas Carol 3D, it was awesome.


  1. I was attracted to your post because of the poster of A Christmas Carol 3D. It really is a good film! Funny, I found myself looking at the behaviours, dress, and roles of men and women as I watched the film.

    I've been pondering the idea of norms for a while now too. I find them useful as well. In our culture they tend to reduce tension and conflict. However, we always have to remember that they are "our" norms. They are different elsewhere. It is not rude to push when you elsewhere so there is no conflict to be resolved anyways. We have to remove ourselves from the bubble and look down on cultures from a different perspective. What is "properly" or "common courtesy" in Uganda or in Japan? Perhaps that is where our conflicts rise. Because Canada is so multicultural we must be that much more sensitive and aware of cultural differences especially in norms.

  2. Interesting. I have never really thought much about norms because we kind of just get taught what to do and do these things automatically without really thinking about it. It's true there aren't usually repercussions for not following norms. I think you're right that we need them just so that everyone is happy and we can keep things under control. I can't really remember any times I haven't followed the norms but I'm sure there has been times. And I agree with you, definitely really annoying when people are talking through movies! Or when you're trying to study in the library in a quiet area and someone is talking super loud on their cell phone and you can still hear them when they walk like 20 feet away from you! haha... I was a little bit angry about that the other day! It's hard to say what things would be like if we didn't have norms or if people decided they no longer wanted to follow them. Too bad we can't do some sort of study to see what would happen... but I'm sure it would make for a lot of angry people and a little bit of chaos!

  3. The norms in theaters have changed because of television. People get used to talking to each other at home in front of the TV, so this becomes the norm they follow when they are out in public at a theater...they just don't know any better. Many theaters therefore have little shorts that try to educate theater goers what the norms are -- most recently about switching off their cell phones. (My favorite was one a couple of years ago where they would show what looked like the trailer for a film, and just as you're watchin what looks like that film's climax, someone's cell phone goes off in the 'audience'. My favorite one they're all sitting around a jailcell waiting to see if the governor is going to phone in time to save the condemned man, and the phone rings but there's no one there and they slowly look around until they realize it someone's phone in the audience. It really made the point that a cell phone at the wrong moment could ruin the whole mood. But that is how they try to educate people to the new norm of switching to vibrate in the theater. (Now if they only had a short to remind us toturn the phone back on as we leave...)


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