I first learned about social norms freshman year in Intro to Sociology and it completely blew my little freshman mind. My professor was telling me that every interaction I have had and everything I have done has been guided by this invisible set of rules which we as a society create for ourselves. Like what? This isn’t real, right? Is my life controlled by my culture and society? Is there no such thing as individual freedom? Everything we do is just because of what our society considers normal?
He later went on to settle my panic by saying that while we are guided by what society thinks, we aren’t limited to it. We can change the social norms if enough people will change them with us. Just think about fashion trends. All they are is the fashion industry saying now this is what everyone is wearing and our society as a whole accepts it and makes it the standard, whether it’s a choker necklace or high-waisted shorts.
So if something like the fashion industry can change what we wear, other factors of our society should be able to change our social norms as well. An example of this would be the fact that we grew up knowing that recycling is good and that we should do it whenever we can. In generations above us, only “hippies” cared about the planet and now it’s normal to care about it even if it’s just in small amounts.
So we have the power to change our society, now we just need a reason to change it. Oh but don’t worry too much. It wasn’t too hard to figure out.
We are killing the planet.
Have you heard of global warming? How about climate change? Or maybe the over-acidification of our oceans? All of those things are killing our planet and as much as political figures like to debate this fact, it is happening because of us; our consumption habits, our agricultural practices, and our general culture.
We are making it impossible to be happy.
Our current definition of successful is somewhere along the lines of being married before thirty, with a kid or two, a nice house, maybe a white picket fence, a steady job (but at the top of your field of course), oh and don’t forget about the 3.5 GPA (at least) or you are automatically marked a failure by default. How can anyone actually be happy in a society that has this many qualifications for success?
We are creating a world where you need to have everything.
Consumerism tells us that the newest trend will give us happiness, that all we need is more stuff and more money and then we will fit in and finally feel like we belong. Not to mention the idea that we can actually have it all. We can afford the basic necessities of life as well as the luxuries that give us power in our society. We can be the perfect mom and the girl boss without being completely stressed out. We want to think that we can have it all and do it all but in reality, we don’t need to have it all and we end up spreading ourselves too thin when we try.
We are making it impossible to live without being ridiculed.
When your dress is too short you’re a slut, too long and you’re a prude. If you work out five times a week, you’re trying too hard but if you work out once a week you are lazy. If you stayed up late partying, you get a reputation, but if you stay up late studying, you’re just a buzzkill. It seems like no matter what we do, our societal norms label us one way or another. Good or bad, it seems like we can’t win unless we become “normal” or simply “average,” and who would want that?
The worst part is that I know there are hundreds of more points that I could bring up. We didn’t even talk about what the media and celebrities are teaching kids, our political issues, and not to mention this nightmare that we’re calling dating.
The point of all of this is if everything in our culture is determined by us, then we can be the ones to change it. We are the next generation, which means pretty soon we will be the ones who have to power to make the big changes and shift the way our society behaves. It’s not going to be easy, of course, but it will be worth it. I like to think that we are already on our way. That we will be the generation to change everything.
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