Violating Social Norms in Public Discussion

Most people will yield to the majority opinion even when it conflicts with their own. When asked, most of us believe that we are different and that we would resist group pressure. We underestimate the power of social forces.

This discussion is one we’re going to have some fun with. I am challenging each of you to violate a simple social constraint early in the week and return to our discussion to tell us about it and how it made you feel. I don’t want you to commit a crime — just a simple (HARMLESS) violation such as standing in the middle of a class, munching popcorn at a piano recital, wearing shorts to a formal event, get on a bus and ask another passenger for his or her seat, face the rear of an elevator with passengers on it, sit in the empty chair at an occupied table in a restaurant, or board a bus and start singing out loud. Be creative!

The rules are:
1. You must not display a “joking” demeanor at the time; be serious about what you are doing.

2. Do this activity alone so that you gain maximum benefit of the assignment (as we are often more brave with a friend or in a group of peers). Afterwards, however, feel free to inform others around you about what you were doing, if you are so inclined. (Some situations may dictate it!)

3. Cause no harm to yourself or others.

4. Do not violate any laws!

Remember, I am not asking you to be rude to anyone, embarrass anyone, endanger your personal safety (or anyone elses’), or do anything against your own beliefs. I am only asking you to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your comfort zone.

First, was this an easy assignment? What did you do, and how did it make you feel before you exhibited “unacceptable” behavior? Did you experience anxiety before, during, or after the action? How did you feel during the action? How about afterwards? How did others react to you?

Also, how do you react when you see someone challenging the social norms? Do you judge them? Does it make you uncomfortable? Do you wish they would just conform like everyone else? Or are you accepting?

What have you learned from this assignment about social forces and expectations?