Without the social norms that we abide by each and every day, there would be absolutely no expectations of how anyone is supposed to “normally” behave. From the moment we wake up on our mattress, usually atop a box spring and frame (the standard sleeping structure in western culture); we follow the norms that have been taught to us since the moment we entered onto this earth.
I think that maintaining these norms, and being seen as normal for abiding by them, are of extreme importance to nearly everyone in every society. To fit in is everyone’s ultimate goal. In order to retain the importance of the norms we’ve constructed, we have created different levels of negative sanctions to deal with the disobedient social deviants. Whether it be conscious or subconscious, every time we view someone falling outside of norms we think negatively of them and react in various ways, from simply rolling our eyes to picking up a phone and dialing the police (depending on the severity of the norm breaking).
Norms in society can range from things that are seemingly insignificant as the kind of clothes we wear to things that are considered law. We consider these small norms to be folkways, and little concern is raised when someone decides to deviate from them. Although it is a folkway to wear casual clothing, such as jeans in what is considered a casual setting, no one is too bothered by someone deciding to “dress up” in something more along the lines of a suit jacket or a nice dress. Norms that are deemed more necessary and absolute, such as driving on a specific side of the road, or refraining from murder, are referred to as mores. These mores are often written down formally whether in formats such as a school handbook, driving manual, or in laws defended by the government. Once written down, these norms are considered to be formal norms, as opposed to informal norms, which are generally grasped by the population, but not necessarily written down. Example of informal norms are the common etiquettes we’ve been raised with, such as not being “too loud” in a public environment or grocery shopping from the store aisles as opposed to someone else’s cart.
Negative sanctions are not the only sanctions to exist in our world of norms. Positive sanctions are seen just as often as negative sanctions. We’re given positive sanctions for obeying our norms through our good grades in schools, promotions and pats on the back at work, and general statuses in life. Because the average person obeys the norms laid out for them, they will have many more opportunities than someone who has deviated from these norms, such as a convicted felon. Other than the obvious jail time and/or fines, felons are negatively sanctioned beyond that to continuously remind them of their wrongdoings. These sanctions can include: refusal to enter other countries, not being allowed a job in childcare or public office, etc., whereas these travel and job opportunities are seemingly very basic and attainable to the Average Joe.
My personal view of norms is exceptionally mixed. On one hand, I feel that norms suffocate any real sense of self and individualism. However, on the other hand, I recognize the importance of providing someone with violent tendencies a standard at which to abide by so that they don’t act on possible homicidal urges. Unfortunately because norms are so heavily relied upon, they are the major players in creating the petty insecurities we feel on a daily basis. I think that if the norms laying in the more aesthetic/subjective spectrum (such as clothing and beauty standards of the gender binary, grooming habits, interest in pop culture, etc) were to be given less focus and attention, the world would be a much happier place. If everyone could mind their own business and pay no mind as to what someone chooses to wear or who they feel like having a relationship with, it’s my belief that suicide would not be nearly as prevalent; especially in those who strain the importance of such things- teenagers. Instead of constantly having to conform and act off of what we think is “normal” our Me and I could just be one, and there wouldn’t have to be so much stress put on our looking glass self. Bullying wouldn’t exist and Ugg boots would’ve not been so vital to every fourteen-year-old girls existence. But in order to do this, one of the important factors would be to significantly cut the amount of corporate advertising shown in all forms of media. Given that in 2010 advertisers spent fifty billion dollars on television advertising alone (Ad Age), one could say cutting such a thing would be detrimental to the United States economy. Although it’s obvious that petty folkway norms can be seemingly of so much more importance in our daily lives, and cause a myriad of self detriment- I don’t think there’s any realistic way in the foreseeable future to be rid of them.