The Violation of a Social Norm
Breaking the norms is not the same as breaking the law, and there is no specific set of rules and regulations that need to be followed. However, violating the norms makes us feel uncomfortable even though we know it is not the same as committing a crime. Why is this so? Norms are shared expectations that are practiced by social communities; everyone is assumed to be aware of the acceptable behaviors within their society. Usually, social behaviors, like any other rules, need to be adopted, developed, and practiced at an early age. The potential persuaders of these norms are family units and educational systems. Parents and teachers start socializing children according to the norms of their society, so children just pick up these norms and put them into practice until it becomes normal to them. In other words, it is easy to do the things we are taught, and the moment we try something different, it does not feel normal, so the easiest way is to avoid doing these things that are out of our comfort zones. Therefore, everyone should keenly take time and try to be conscious of their negative reactions towards norms because it can emotionally damage individuals.
I find breaking the norms interesting and educational because it helps us experiment with what it means to be doing something different from the usual things we go through in everyday life. Therefore, I wanted to know the reaction of people if they see someone wearing traditional Somali clothing to class. I wore a traditional wrap to class, which is called a guntino. The garment is basically a cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist. with beautiful eye-catching combinations of orange and yellow stripes. Wearing it during winter is not the best thing to do as it is light and long. Traditionally, the Somali women wear it only to special occasions such as weddings. Independence Day, and other events that are appropriate for the dress code. Besides that, I have never seen any students going to class dressed in their cultural attire, so I decided to be the first to do it. When I entered my accounting class wearing a guntino, my lecturer loudly said, in a surprised voice, ·'Oh, you look nice.'' Three of my friends from Nigeria, Ghana, and Cameroon in West Africa started giggling the moment they saw me. The one from Ghana asked me if I had gone mad! She could not imagine why anyone would do that. I asked her, "What is wrong with it? After all, it is considered a piece of clothing, so why is it crazy to wear it to class?" She mumbled, "I just think it is not appropriate for you to wear it to school." On top of that, I could feel the tension the moment I walked in; the whole class looked at me until I sat down, and even though most of the students did not say anything verbally, they showed expressions such as frowning, eyes wide open, and some stared and whispered to their friends. This awkward moment made me feel self-conscious despite the fact that I was doing it to see the reaction of others.
I also went to Anderson Commons to eat, and many people asked me if I was going to present or going to an event. Some American students told me they liked what I was wearing but did not know or even care to know what it was for. But, two of my other African friends were delighted and proud to see me wear my traditional clothes, and they suggested that we should have a day when everyone wears their traditional attire. The funniest part was when my other friend from Africa asked, laughing so loud, if I was looking for a husband and offered to help me look for one. While crossing the road to my apartment, a lady screamed out of her car, "I like your dress." Others also asked me if I was feeling cold, even though I was wearing a jacket with it to keep me warm. This shows that people wear different clothing styles for different seasons.
Norms are continuous practices that develop from time to time and breaking them becomes very difficult. Even though it was a deliberate act breaching the norm, I didn't feel completely comfortable wearing traditional clothes to class or even walking around with them on campus. This may be because no one wears traditional clothes to class, at least not at Concordia College, and traditional clothes are usually worn for specific occasions according to the norms. The attention I was getting from people alone made me feel so nervous and uneasy. Some of the negative and provoking reactions also made me feel angry. However, the few positive comments neutralized the bad and negative silent and verbal reactions, which helped me to cool down. I know if I did this experiment in Somalia or Kenya, there would be more verbal reactions than the silent responses I got from the Concordia community. It was surprising that only one person from my political philosophy class commented. I guess to some people it is easier to ignore than to question.
After my interesting research, I realized that if norms are not fully internalized by the majority of the society, people find it hard to relate to them. We all live by examples and things we learn or see from our elders' interactions or the social agents that influence us. Since wearing cultural attire to class is not something that people usually do, it becomes foreign to many, so it is viewed as weird and uncomfortable behavior. At times, having a different view or being deviant can put individuals under a lot of stress, leading the person into anomie (Robert Merton's theory). According to Dalton Conley, a sociologist, anomie is aimlessness or despair that arises when we can no longer reasonably expect life to be predictable (Conley, 23). Other sociologists, including Durkheim, argue anomie results from the limited creations of social arrangements within societies (Conley, 23). Just imagine if I went to school every day and all I got were negative reactions from people. whether through silent, behavioral, or verbal reactions from students and lecturers. That would have damaged me emotionally and could even have forced me into anomie. So I now have a clue of why many people end up taking their lives when they feel rejected by their community. People should be educated about these social matters that occur because most of the time we do not take these small issues into account, and when horrible things crop up, we often do not know how to find a solution.
In conclusion, social norms are considered wrong, but it is not the same as committing serious crimes such as murder, stealing, bribing, and rape that require punishment. When one breaks the norms, the society or sociological agents remind them through silent and verbal reactions. People usually get laughed at, gossiped about, and showed negative signs. For example, when we speak loudly in the library, the librarian or other people studying near us will tell us to shush, which means to be quiet. This explains that in everything we do, there are some sorts of rules involved that are expected to be followed, and if these rules are broken, there are consequences to be faced. However, negative response from the society is the punishment for breaching the norms. This type of punishment can impact and lead someone into anomie simply because they feel rejected, useless, and ignored by their own societies. My suggestion is that people should be aware of what norms are, and why we value norms so much, even when they do not make any sense. Something so simple such as wearing traditional clothes should not be unconsciously strange because it is different and unusual.
Conley, Dalton (20ll). You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociology.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton.