Constrained Socialisation and Norms’ Omnipotence

Have you ever felt that strange feeling making you reckon you’re not at the right place at the right time? Such emotional unease is far from being unusual, and quintessentially relies on rules — implicit rules. Indeed, breaking social norms, or at least getting round them, undeniably entails awkwardness which is both embodied and vehicled by other people’s behaviors. Still, such feelings reveal much more about mankind than one might assume.

Think about it : every time one enters a new social circle, one is to be judged, discussed, analysed.. Such a natural phenomenon exerts social pressure on everyone who has to get through it, and, in many cases, this ends up in a thrilling behavioral alteration. Suddenly, we start to pretend sharing tastes, styles or even humor with people we didn’t really know before. And, if we’re acting like that, it’s because we want to avoid unease : we are afraid of a possible ostracization. This is what we could call “constrained socialisation” : adquiring norms and values without having chosen to do so. It’s just like losing a battle without having started to fight, that is to say the greatest defeat.

Now, why could it cover great relevance? Actually, not only does such a natural phenomenon shows how much we humans tend to playact (read more about it thanks to Marivaux, Balzac, Molière and other genius writers of the 18th century), but it also emphasizes the fearsome power exerted by norms. Every institution tends to prove that : just remember when you attended primary or secondary school, even higher education can’t deny being the theater of constrained socialization. The most famous business schools — although they pretend helping each individual develop — only train students to adopt norms supposed to make them more productive/ist or to enter the great competition putatively taking place in students’ future lives. Granted, as a student in a French business school, I obviously wanted to join the groups which shared my values. Still, joining a new group irremediably implies constrained socialization : without even realising it, I adopted my school’s norms, as well as the behavior people wanted me to have. Any deviating will immediately be socially condemned, and initiatives may not be rejected only if they constitute a lenghtening of this behavior. Our fear of being rejected fills the strenght of such a mechanism, making it breakable as soon as we get rid of such fear. Before seeing what this fear really hides, let’s dive into a further analysis of our prerogative.

Just as we said, institutions are an agreagation of norms and values, they prove the very existence of constrained socialisation. However, not only do institutions emphasize it, but it also works at a higher scale. For instance, a country also consitute an agreagation of norms and values, entailing a logical aftermath. When one is born, one gets through constrained socialisation according to the country where it took place. As Claude-Levi STRAUSS brilliantly developed in We all are cannibals (2013), our world could be turned upside-down owing to cultural differencies between countries. For instance, whereas Japanese people are said to consider society more important than themselves, our occidental societies would rather reckon individuals shape society, making them transcendent to society. This phenomenon hides a cruel reality : norms are omnipotent, they are the ones who shape individuals. Indeed, and I assume it is far more difficult for us Western people to understand it, we cannot be unique and independent. Actually, we tend to think being unique only because norms made us believe so. The individual — as a concept— cannot be shaped by itself, cannot be independent : its behavior is conducted by the norms it grew up with. This is how much norms are strong, this is how much unavoidable they are. Every living human being has been through constrained socialization from the moment he/she started to live, and every living human being’s behavior depends on the norms he went through.

Nevertheless, the unavoidable side of constrained socialization must be questioned. As a newborn baby, or as a kid, it is difficult to imagine getting rid of norms. Still, as an adult, it seems possible to avoid constrained socialization. Indeed, we said before that constrained socialization finds its origins in our fear of being rejected. Hence, by getting over such fear, how could constrained socialization keep being a reality? The means of doing so seem unknown, but before fighting our fear, it is necessary to understand it. Where does this fear come from? Is it innate, is it natural, is it another norm?

Here, and this will conclude this article, a book from Marianne Williamson covers great relevance. Entitled A Return To Love : Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles and published in 1992, this book gives us to know an interesting view of what our “deepest fear” could be :

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us ; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

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