Living like herd animals
We often act like a herd of horses. A couple horses bolt and run north, and the rest of us follow without much thought. But sometimes you see a horse stand their ground and keep munching hay while the herd goes north. There is a survival aspect to staying with the herd, but somehow that one horse knows that this isn’t a life or death situation, and they opt out.
Social Norms in our herd
Social norms operate like that herd mentality. They are not based on law, but we tend to follow them as if they were the law in order to fit in. But when they feel wrong, should we push back or conform? Figuring out that answer is tricky, and oftentimes situational. Social norms can range from expectations about roles based on gender, how we dress, how we talk about others, and there are even social norms within workplaces that vary based on the company culture. When you find yourself in a sticky situation and are wondering which way to go, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Questions to ask yourself about social norms
- Am I unsafe or are others unsafe? This is the #1 question to clarify. If yes, getting out, speaking up, pushing back, or getting help is the only answer.
- Does this social norm bother me, or am I on board with it?
- Am I conforming out of fear, social standing, or safety?
- Am I pushing back due to areas where I’m not healthy and need to address myself?
- If it impacts someone else, can I see their perspective? Am I willing to back them up?
- What does pushing back or conforming look like, does it have to be big or can it be subtle?
- What is the impact of pushing back or conforming? Am I willing to live with that?
- If you are not interested in conforming, but you’re not ready to stand up or push back, are you able to set healthy boundaries around this social norm so you don’t feel compromised?
Like so many things in life, there isn’t a single right or wrong answer, but by asking yourself these questions you might feel more confident with your decision.
Many people struggle with how to speak up. This article on speaking up against bad behavior gives some good tips.