All of this is a construct. That is neither good nor bad. It is agnostic.
We are born into a world with set rules and social norms.
These social norms are generated over 100s and thousands of years and they change frequently.
This means that social norms while “real” to the observer and experiencer as they do have real world consequences if followed or not followed, they are not like the law of gravity or the speed of light, that has a defined constant and hasn’t changed since the earth was formed.
These social norms help society function cohesively (or at least partially cohesively), however they don’t necessarily help individuals to be “themselves.”
Here are the common fears that we have due to not following social norms that starts when we are adolescents:
- That we will be rejected by the group, ostracized, and die (that used to be true that if we were exiled or kicked out of the group that the chance of survival was almost zero.)
- We fear what others will think of us, that they won’t like us, that they won’t approve of us, that they’ll say bad things about us to others, that our “social credit score” will go down.
- This of course then leads back to the same thing… being rejected by the group.
Since we are social animals and thrive on community (most of us), if we are kicked out or feel like we no longer belong, that existence and experience is worse than death (for most people).
This is why people do things that are consistently against their own self interest. (it’s not a bad thing that we choose to deny ourselves sometimes as our own self interest can be very damaging in certain cases).
There is also a pull to do things that are outside of societal norms as we are also very drawn to “the other.” We are drawn to things that seem different, distant, and that we don’t fully understand.
So… it’s this strange dance between order and chaos. Order, following the norms. Chaos disregarding all the norms and doing whatever you want.
Since norms are relative to culture, decade, century, and millenia, I think it’s fair to say that most things are not objective truths, but stories we’ve told ourselves in order to make sense of a vast and impossibly complex universe.
What’s the takeaway from this?
If you are afraid of what someone might think if you do a certain thing (and it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical)…
Or you feel obligated to act a certain way or do a certain thing as to not “offend” someone else’s sensibilities…
#1 Realize that you not doing what you feel you should do because of an arbitrary social rule is suppressing your own desire and passion. It doesn’t have to be that way.
#2 Obligation is a helluva drug. Do it because you want to and it’s the right thing to do not because you feel like you “have to.” You don’t “have to” do anything. You choose to do things because it will keep your social standing, relational standing, etc.
So… when navigating through life, I find it to be helpful to ask myself, “am I working this job, starting this business, eating this food, speaking this way, behaving this way, because I want to be accepted…?”
Or, am I doing things because I genuinely want to and enjoy the process.
I think the key takeaway is this:
You and I, we want connection, meaning, purpose, excitement, stability, and love.
First, look internally, and continue to learn how to be at peace with yourself with where you are currently at in life. There are many books on finding peace, usually buddhist type teachings. For me, writing is one of the primary ways I find peace as I can just be completely vulnerable with myself and often uncover trains of thought I didn’t know existed.
Second, remove external sources of toxicity and negativity or at the very least, reduce your exposure to them. This might mean leaving a toxic work environment, relationship, or entertainment that you are exposed to on a daily basis.