Last week, we talked about conforming to cultural norms. But what types of norms are we conforming to? And why and how are we conforming?
Well, to understand norms, first we must talk about values.
Values are what define a culture’s goals and ideals, and cultural norms are, in a way, these values, personified.
Values & Norms
Study.com defines norms relative to culture, thusly: “The term ‘culture’ refers to attitudes and patterns of behavior in a given group. ‘Norm’ refers to attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal, typical or average within that group.”
So, norms are more closely related to our behaviors, while values are more closely related to our attitudes, ideals, and beliefs. Both our values and norms are ingrained in us and in our society through its existing systems, such as family, the education system, and government.
The government and other higher institutions define a nation’s values, while the norms and values are implemented and taught by families and schools. Some degree of conformity in these two areas is expected in every culture. The degree of conformity is often based on survival vs. self-expression values, but conformity always defines cultural norms.
And we are often completely oblivious to the influences of both values and norms in the way we live our lives.
Different Norm Types
There are four different types of norms, which we will detail over the coming weeks.
The majority culture in any nation invokes these expectations and rules, which are primarily based on their values. Behavior – such as habits, customs, traditions, and rule of law – is guided by the most prominent culture; they create the yardstick of what is considered “right” and “wrong” on the whole.
Swimming With/Against the Current
Do you follow your own culture’s norms? Do you swim with the school of fish? Or do you make a point of standing out from the crowd?
Whether you swim with or against the current, you’re making choices in defiance of your society’s values and norms, or you’re making choices in favor of them. Either way, your individuality is defined by the cultural norms of your society.
Remember, if you want to “fit in” to a foreign culture, you can look at norms as a sort of etiquette guidebook for the culture in which you choose to integrate.