Operation: Breaking Social Norms

A mission statement by Eliana Bernstein  

Everyone wants to be unique. They want to have their own personality, their own style; they want to stand out from others. If this is true, then why do most people follow social norms? Why do people conform to the society around them? Social norms are the behaviors expected for an individual to follow when a member of a group or society.

My fellow members of Philip’s Angels and I were assigned the task of breaking social norms on the tube this past week. We did push-ups, sat on the floor, stood on the seats, and even did the Macarena in the middle of one of the trains. The other passengers on the tube gave us dirty, confused looks. These passengers seemed to feel uncomfortable around our abnormal behavior. From a sociologist’s perspective it is easy to determine that we received these looks because we were not following the so-called normal behavior expected of passengers in this social setting. Some passengers avoided eye contact with us, wanting nothing to do with us, likely because they did not want to encourage our abnormal behavior. Another possibly motivation behind the passengers avoiding us was because they did not know how to change our non-conformist behavior. The passengers probably thought it was not worth yelling at us, as we did not cross the threshold of threat into that of danger. Yelling at us and verbalizing their discontent would only cause more passengers to break a social norm. They must have considered the worthwhileness of trying to stop people from breaking social norms if it caused them to do so. From this experiment I realized that most people do not consider it worth the risk.

As weird as it is to witness people breaking social norms it is also difficult to break them yourself. While sitting on the floor of the tube instead of the seats, the glares I received form other passengers made me feel as if they were rejecting me. I felt uncomfortable and like an out cast for acting differently. People probably believed I was strange for not following the seemingly obvious social norms. The glares they gave me made me want to conform, to rejoin society, and to sit on the tube seats in place of the floor. Society is made up of many different social norms, and when one doesn’t follow them they are frowned upon and rejected by society. The environment we live in is made up of many different rules that individuals follow in order to fit in, and when one doesn’t follow these “so called” norms one often finds society to be a much more difficult place to live in. We all strive to be individuals ,but do social norms allow us to fulfill that desire?


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