“People are going to behave however the social norms permit, and beyond that.”
Max Cannon, Artist
Pros and Cons of Social Norms
Social norms are an implicit set of unwritten rules in a society that are based on cultural values of a respective region. While some of those social norms can make quite a lot of sense, others are rather historic construct with little to no use for our current state of the world.
In this article, the pros and cons of social norms are examined in detail.
Advantages of Social Norms
- Historical values are promoted
- People may be kept under control
- May increase the level of kindness in a society
- People may feel more secure
- You may stop bad habits
- May help you to find new friends
- Necessary to be a valuable member of society
- Complying with social norms makes your parents proud
- People know how the game works
- Social norms may keep the current system working
- Conformity to social norms can give you a career boost
Historical values are promoted
One important advantage of social norms is that cultural values from the past can be sustained in the presence. For instance, many things that worked from a historical perspective may also work in the future and therefore, the social knowledge that had been acquired may be used in order to improve the state of society in the future.
Moreover, many people are also quite proud of their past and their history and want to keep those cultural values which they learned from their ancestors alive. Therefore, in order not to lose important social constructs from the past, social norms can help in this regard.
People may be kept under control
Social values are unwritten rules instead of strict laws that people have to comply with in order not to get punished. Yet, many people still conform to those social norms since they feel it is the right thing to do. Quite often, parents teach children from an early age to comply with those norms since they think that it is the right thing to do.
In fact, social norms are quite helpful tools for governments to keep the general public under control. Therefore, in order to prevent revolutions or other events that are not in line with the preferences of the current regimes, social norms can be a great tool to keep control and to maintain power in a country.
May increase the level of kindness in a society
In many societies, social norms also state that people should interact in a respectful and kind manner with each other. Therefore, if people comply with those social norms, chances are that we will get a society where people will treat each other with respect.
Yet, everyone of us should ask himself or herself whether we really need social norms for that. If you currently behave in a disrespectful manner, you should ask yourself if it is time for a change, independent of social norms that may push you in this direction.
People may feel more secure
People who are quite insecure inside often conform to social norms the most since they get a certain feeling of security from it. Those people often need a framework of rules in order to know what’s right and what’s wrong.
Therefore, social norms can also be a great way to give people guidance in their lives so that they don’t feel lost.
You may stop bad habits
Another advantage of complying with social norms is that you may be more willing to stop bad habits. For instance, smoking is something that is tolerated in most societies, yet it is still considered to be a rather negative thing to do. In some regions of our planet, smoking is not valued at all and people may even become socially isolated if they smoke in those areas.
Hence, if you live in such an area or move to it, you will have a strong incentive to quit smoking in order to comply with the local social norms and to be a valued member of society. In turn, quitting smoking will not only benefit you from a social perspective, it will also be quite beneficial for your health in the long run.
Thus, social norms may also help you to stop a variety of bad habits, which may in turn greatly improve your health level and also your overall quality of life.
May help you to find new friends
Since the vast majority of people in society conform with the social norms of a specific region, chances are that you will also have much better chances to find new friends if you conform to those norms as well.
If you talk to many different people, you will soon realize how dependent most of them really are on those social rules and it will become apparent to you that many of them will never accept you in case you violate those social norms.
Therefore, if you urgently search for new friends, you will have a much easier time if you conform to social norms.
Necessary to be a valuable member of society
Social norms also set the framework regarding how we live and treat each other as a society. This also implies that everyone who does not behave according to those implicit rules will be considered as dodgy. Thus, people are told from an early age on how to be a valuable member of society and can act according to that.
This also helps to reduce criminal actions since people may feel bad when they do something illegal since those actions are against the rules of our society.
Complying with social norms makes your parents proud
The huge majority of parents also strictly comply with the social rules that had been set in our society. Therefore, they will teach you from an early age on how you should behave and will punish behaviors that are against those social norms while they will encourage behaviors that are in line with those social norms.
Thus, if you want to make your parents proud, it might be necessary to comply with those social norms since they seem to be the gold standard for most of the people in our current society and acting against those norms will not be acceptable for the majority of people as well as for your parents.
People know how the game works
Another upside of social norms is that they enable people to understand how the social game works. We are taught from an early age on what’s wrong and what’s right, according to the social rules that are present in our society right now.
Therefore, everyone knows how he or she has to behave in our society in order to be accepted and valued. In other words, everyone knows how the game works and can’t complain that he or she didn’t know the rules.
Social norms may keep the current system working
Conforming with social norms is also crucial to keep our current system intact and working. For instance, you will go to work everyday and work in your 9:5 job. Yet, this is just another social construct.
When you entered this world, you didn’t have the feeling that this is the right way to go. You had been formed by our society to comply with this concept and so due to our current cultural values.
Even though this can be considered to be quite problematic from a personal development standpoint, social norms still help to keep the system running.
Conformity to social norms can give you a career boost
If you aspire to a corporate career, it is crucial that you comply with social norms. Your chances of getting promoted will vastly decline if you go against the grain since everyone is expecting from you to be the good buy or the good girl who complies with our social norms and to company values all day long.
Therefore, different ways of thinking and different lifestyles are not encouraged in the corporate world at all, even though everyone claims to be Soooooo tolerant :P.
Disadvantages of Conforming To Social Norms
- Loss of individuality
- People behave like machines
- Lack of diversity
- People don’t live their life to its fullest
- Other people determine what’s going on in your life
- Social conditioning is not always beneficial for you
- Personality development is prevented or slowed down
- You will never become a strong character
- People become dependent
- Mental problems
- You may regret it in your later life
- Conformity may turn people into pets
- Many social norms are obsolete
- May not make sense at all
- Social norms can lead to discrimination of minorities
- Social isolation
- Can lead to serious adverse political outcomes
- Overall global progress will be slower
- May be used to justify inhuman behavior
- Social norms are different across countries
- Social norms change over time
Loss of individuality
Even though the conformity to social norms has some advantages, it also implies serious issues. One big problem of social norms is that they often also lead to a complete loss of individuality. If you have to comply with social norms, you have to comply with what society thinks is the right way to go.
Yet, this has nothing to do with your personal preferences most of the time and if you comply with those rules, chances are that you will completely lose yourself.
Therefore, if you want to keep your own individuality, you can’t like the concept of conforming to social norms at all and you might neglect those norms in order to stay a free and individual human being.
People behave like machines
If you take a look around and watch how people behave, you will soon realize that people are no longer acting like humans, but rather like dumb machines that have to carry out some standardized tasks every day since they are literally programmed to do so.
For instance, a normal day for most people starts with showering, getting breakfast, commuting to work, waiting until work is over, going back home, eat and fall asleep.
Even though the majority of people is quite unhappy with this boring daily routine, most of them never seem to make a change in their entire life since they feel that this is how life is supposed to be.
In my opinion, this is quite sad since life has so much more to offer than these standard routines and people literally waste their lives solely due to the fact that they feel they have to comply with dumb social constructs.
Lack of diversity
Social norms can also be considered to be a serious enemy to human freedom. While complying with social rules will give you a boost in all parts of your daily life, it will also encourage a lack of diversity in our society. If everyone is programmed to live a certain lifestyle, all alternative lifestyles are considered to be dodgy at the same time and are devalued.
Hence, compliance with social values automatically leads to a significant loss of diversity and individual freedom and in my opinion, this is not a desirable way to go.
People don’t live their life to its fullest
Conforming to social norms also implies that you will never live your life to its fullest since you will always have to make compromises. For instance, you might like smoking or doing other things that are not valued by society.
In order to be a good boy, you may give up those things, even though they might be fun for you. This leads to a quite undesirable state where people will rather comply with social norms instead of just doing what they want to do with their lives.
Other people determine what’s going on in your life
Not only will you not live your life the way you want to, but you will even let other people set the framework regarding how you should behave in society. This is kind of ridiculous in my opinion. Why should you comply with rules that are set by others instead of complying with your own rules and values?
This doesn’t make sense to me at all and in my opinion, you should value your opinion about yourself much more than the opinion of others about you. Hence, complying with social norms can also lead to an undesirable state where other people decide how you should live your life.
Social conditioning is not always beneficial for you
Governments and other authorities often claim that complying with our social and cultural norms is quite beneficial for you. However, if you take a closer look, you will soon realize that most of the cultural rules will do nothing good for you at all. Instead, they will confine your overall freedom and may lead to high levels of unhappiness in the long run.
Therefore, instead of complying with unnecessary social norms, you should rather figure out what’s important for you and act according to your own values.
Personality development is prevented or slowed down
Another downside of social norms is that they completely slow down your personal development. We only grow in personality if we make many new experiences and if we solve our problems the way we want to.
If we just comply with social rules all the time, there is no gain in knowledge and experience and this is the reason why many old people still act like children.
They never learned to develop their own character but rather stayed on the track of complying with social norms since they have been told that this is the right way to go.
You will never become a strong character
If you always comply with our social norms, chances are that you will also never become a strong character. Every strong character out there doesn’t care about social values at all. Now, that doesn’t mean that those people will necessarily act against those values.
They just have their own value system which they follow and those values may coincidently match with the values of society. Thus, you can still be a decent human being and help others, even though you don’t value our current value system at all.
Therefore, if you really want to live your life according to your terms and if you want to become a really strong character, complying with social norms is definitely one of the last things you should do.
People become dependent
Social norms also imply the problem that people may become quite dependent. People learn how to comply with those social norms and how to be a good boy.
Yet, in case there are revolutions or other things that may change the system, chances are that people will no longer know how to behave since they had learned to comply with social norms for all their lives and in case those norms become eroded, there will be no value system left to follow.
Some people may also suffer from serious mental problems from following social norms. This is due to the fact that conforming with social norms can lead to great levels of unhappiness.
For instance, most people just hate their jobs, yet they feel it is the right way to continue to work in the corporate world instead of building a business that would enable them to do the things they love instead.
However, over time, people will become increasingly unhappy and frustrated and may suffer from all kinds of mental issues. In general, if we do something that is not in line with our core values, we will feel depressed and sad in the long run.
Therefore, if you want to avoid suffering from mental problems in the long run, you should just do what you love to do, independent of whether it is in line with our social norms or not.
You may regret it in your later life
If you ask old people what they regret, they often tell you that they should have lived their lives more on their own terms instead of just complying with nonsense rules society imposed on them.
Hence, if you don’t want to have serious regrets later on, you may go for your dreams instead of following our social norms.
Conformity may turn people into pets
If you have a look at our society right now, you can see that many people behave more like pets than like free human beings. People comply with all kinds of things without even questioning whether those social norms make sense or not. Similar to a dog getting the stick, people are trained to behave in certain ways like some sorts of puppets.
Therefore, if you want to live your life like a human being instead of a dumb puppet or pet, you might want to follow your own set of rules instead of conforming with everything society wants you to do.
Many social norms are obsolete
A high number of social norms and rules are also historical constructs and no longer suitable for our current state of the world. Yet, they are still considered to be the gold standard in order to be a valued member of our society.
Thus, since those values often do no longer make any sense, we may want not to follow those obsolete social norms anymore.
May not make sense at all
While some social norms may really make sense in order to improve our overall quality of life, others may not make sense at all and it is on you to figure out which social norms benefit our society and which are rather harmful to humanity.
Therefore, if you come to the conclusion that a certain social norm doesn’t make sense at all, simply ignore it and do what makes more sense to you.
Social norms can lead to discrimination of minorities
Even though everyone claims that we all should be more tolerant, the reality is that our social norms significantly contribute to the discrimination of minorities.
Social norms set a certain cultural framework and everyone who complies with this framework is valued while everyone who has different cultural values will be discriminated against.
Consequently, our social norms can indeed be considered to be a major factor for the lack of tolerance in our society.
In regions where compliance with social values is extremely important to the general public, people with alternative lifestyles often become socially isolated since they are not accepted in society at all. Therefore, our social values can also lead to the exclusion of people.
Can lead to serious adverse political outcomes
If people just follow social norms and lose their ability to think in a critical manner, this can also lead to all kinds of unpleasant political outcomes. We have seen this throughout history. People can really become blind to what’s wrong and what’s right.
Thus, in order to avoid those unpleasant political outcomes, for example the rise of dictatorships, we may want to abandon social norms since they can clearly be used to manipulate the general public.
Overall global progress will be slower
Since social norms restrict our level of freedom and alternative thinking, it may also slow down our global technological progress. People will develop fewer new ideas since they are not encouraged to think out of the box and therefore, the chances for important new inventions will become smaller if everyone complies with social rules.
May be used to justify inhuman behavior
Throughout human history, social norms have been used to justify inhuman behaviors of many sorts. For instance, serious punishments for rather minor issues had been quite common in our past history.
In order to avoid those kinds of unjustifiable punishments in the future, we should rather rely on our own intuition than to promote inappropriate social rules.
Social norms are different across countries
Some people also think that their social rules are the gold standard regarding how everyone should behave in life. Yet, those people completely neglect that social values significantly differ across countries and that there are in fact no global social rules at all.
Thus, setting those social norms as the ultimate standard regarding how people should behave does not make sense at all from a global perspective.
Social norms change over time
Social norms are also no fixed construct. Norms change over time and what had been the norm for many years may be considered to be dodgy or irrelevant in the future.
This should give you a clear indication that social norms are quite subjective constructs and that following them may not make too much sense at all.
Top 10 Social Norms Pros & Cons – Summary List
|Social Norms Pros||Social Norms Cons|
|Can sustain historical values||Individuality loss|
|Social norms are crucial in business||Character development may suffer|
|May give people a feeling of security||You can’t live your life on your terms|
|People are kept under control||High level of dependence|
|May help to promote senseful values||Diversity in our society may suffer|
|Social norms may help you stop bad habits||Mental issues|
|Compliance with norms may please parents||Significant levels of regret|
|Sets rules and borders in our society||Unpleasant political outcomes|
|May keep the current system intact||Norms change over time|
|Complying with norms is good to find friends||Social norms differ across countries|
Should You Conform To Social Norms?
As we have seen before, there are many pros and cons of conforming to social norms. However, in my opinion, social norms often do more harm than good for our society and instead of just blindly following those norms, you should rather develop your own value system.
Only then will you live your life according to the values that matter to you and can develop your own character instead of just behaving like a puppet or a trained dog.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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