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It does not require a critical look in order for one to realize that the society is as it is because of the norms and the rules that regulate people's behavior. It is these norms, standard and rules which form the culture as a people's total way of life. It is on this premise that the paper attempts to make a critical response to the seriousness, extent, underpinnings and importance of these norms. This may be done, in relation to some of the incidences I have found myself in.
To determine the importance, seriousness and strength of these norms and two experiments were carried out. In the first experiment, the subject accompanied with a male partner, sit next to two ladies. They approach the two ladies, sit next to them and continue talking loudly until the ladies leave. In the second experiment, the researcher, in the company of a mate, join without total consent, two girls and keep talking loudly. The women walk away.
In the two experiments discussed above, the norm that was broken was courtesy. This is because, despite the fact that in the first experiment, the subject asked the girls to move over to their table, their speaking in loud voices between themselves in the presence of the ladies is totally not courteous. In the second experiment, the situation is much grimmer. While the subject joins the female tour group without a reason and surprisingly shout behind them, the same act can be interpreted in the court of law to amount to sexual harassment. This is because; the subject and the counterpart were walking behind the tour group all the time, insistently and knowingly. Nevertheless, the basest of the matters at hand readily attest to lack of courtesy.
Courtesy as a form of social norm is normally inculcated in the family and school setting. It is at the home that children are first taught about social values and the need to use words of courtesy such as 'thank you,' 'please,' 'welcome,' 'pardon' or 'sorry.' At home, this is mainly done informally to ensure that a child has proper socializing skills. On the other hand, at the school, this is carried out formally for academic purposes and to ensure that the learner has proficiency in interpersonal skills. In schools, this is mainly done to prepare the learner for professionalism.
At the bottom line, the need to maintain this above social norm is mainly geared at ensuring that people: maintain mutual respect among different people; remain acceptable in the society as normal; and that there is effective interpersonal communication, through the maintenance of interpersonal skills.
There are several reasons which may underscore the existence of these norms such as courtesy and politeness, as explained by the structural-functional approach of explaining social constructs and phenomena. The structural functionalism as a sociological and anthropological perspective seeks to analyze and interpret the society as a structure which has interrelated parts which are the norms, the traditions, customs and institutions. Through this interpretation of the society as being made up of interrelated parts, the society is seen as a body with several organs which work together towards the realization of a complex whole. This is to the effect that the different facets of the society so that in these 'organs' there is a deliberate and rigorous effort to impute the customs, practice and feature on the functioning of a stable and cohesive system.
It is against the above backdrop that social norms do not only exist, but the same can also be analyzed at length. For instance, in this above respect, it can be seen that the different 'body parts' of the society which are the family and the school are all working towards the realization of a social value which is proper interpersonal skills. As already mentioned, it is in the family setting that an individual is socialized to be socially refined, through the emphasis of the interpersonal skills which also encompass courtesy. The family in this case forms the strongest from of socialization, given that it is the very first class from which an individual learns and is nurtured. The gravity behind this development is that the individual learns from his parents both actively and passively by observing the parents' way of interaction.
On the other hand, the school also provides a form of socialization towards the realization of proper interpersonal skills such as courtesy. Nevertheless, the schooling system mainly aims at inculcating professional competence. At the same time, the form of socialization which is being offered in schools takes a formal and an active note. The learner has no recourse to listening. This makes the learning of social norms such as the use of polite words very prescriptive in nature.
At the same time, alternative institutions such as the Church exist in the society to ensure that the ethical and moral values of the society are upheld. Mostly, this is exemplified in the Church's teaching on the need to have humility, to respect fellow man and ultimately to uphold the society's moral values. Indeed, the golden rule and the Beatitudes serve as very epitome of the call for courtesy and other forms of societal virtues. As such, the Church plays alongside the school and the family, roles which are critically important to the realization of a more cohesive and integral society of people.
Given that culture is a people's total way of life and forms a complex whole, being inclusive of all the social, political and economic constructs as extant within the society of man, it is myopic to lock out the corporate, the public and the private sector from this structural functional approach, as a way of explaining the society. Given that these sectors are driven by meritocracy, it has always behooved potential and prospective candidates to ensure the possession of the relevant qualifications and credentials to the job. Apart from academic credentials and experience, it has become necessary to ensure that candidates in job recruitment drives are socially polished and thus in position to relate with others in a manner that is courteous. The emphasis on courtesy as a form of interpersonal skill by the public, corporate or private sector is not only based on the fact that it will aid in intra-organizational organization, but also on the fact that the recruit may later on access managerial position, and thereby being a representative of the organization.
Some of the Factors Which Undermine Societal Norms and the Consequences of Contravening These Norms
The gravity of the above standpoint is that there are certain moves as being propounded by liberals to redefine the societal institutions. Particularly, the most recent threat to these societal values and institutions is the present push for individualism (the idea that it is the individual who is the most basic and the most important unit of the society) at the expense of familism (the long held traditional belief that it is the family which is the basic and the most important part of the society).
This above state of affair is the very reason that has continued to underpin the "deinstitutionalization" of conventional norms such as courtesy. For instance, the disregarding of the family as the basic unit of the society continues to leave young individuals with no proper grounding on ethical values. Apart from the fact that the young individual grows up with weak self-insulation against the dangers of falling to the lure of drug abuse and substance reliance, mediocrity and lawlessness, the same also leaves the young ones to grow up without interpersonal skills such as courtesy. The situation depicted in both experiments previously divulged upon is most likely an indicator of weak or failed parenting.
At the same time, it is through the gradual but steady consideration of the individual as the most important unit in the society (at the expense of the family) that the rights of the individual are being to be being too inchoately overrated. The assumption that the individual has ultimate rights to do as he pleases is misplaced, given that the essence of rights must be interpreted within the context of the society. The gravity of this reality is based on the fact that the human person coexists with other persons within the society, so that it is impossible to talk of absolute rights. The presence of an individual's rights automatically amounts to the infringing on the rights of others. Therefore, it is wrong for the executor in the experiment and the colleague to join female tour groups without consent as the same amounts to not only lack of courtesy, but an incursion into the girls' privacy. To encroach on one's private space is to infringe on the victim's rights.
While freedom of expression, speech, conscience and movement are sacrosanct rights and liberty which are provided for in the US Constitution, it was totally wrong for the participants of the research to walk behind and to shout at the girls, as these acts may be translated as sexual harassment.