Unpacking Social Norms: From Handshakes to Birthday Celebrations

Sofia Rodriguez

Updated Tuesday, June 11, 2024 at 5:47 AM CDT

Unpacking Social Norms: From Handshakes to Birthday Celebrations

The Inconsistency of "Don't Speak Ill of the Dead"

The age-old adage "Don't speak ill of the dead" is frequently touted as a mark of respect for those who have passed away. However, this rule is often applied inconsistently. For instance, while society condemns figures like Hitler without hesitation, it shies away from criticizing less universally reviled individuals. This selective application reveals that the rule is more about personal biases than an objective standard of respect for the deceased.

When we selectively apply this rule, it becomes evident that it is not universally about respect for the dead, but rather about our individual and collective biases. If the principle were genuinely about respect, it would be applied uniformly, regardless of one's personal feelings toward the deceased. Instead, it becomes a tool for social control, dictating who deserves posthumous criticism and who does not.

The Awkwardness of the Last Piece of Food

Social etiquette often dictates that before taking the last piece of food at a gathering, one must ask if anyone else wants it. This seemingly polite gesture can create an awkward moment where people feel compelled to wait for collective approval rather than just taking the piece. This can make social gatherings less enjoyable as people navigate this unnecessary tension.

This social norm can lead to a paradox where everyone waits for someone else to make the first move, resulting in the last piece remaining untouched. This not only wastes food but also creates an environment where people are more focused on adhering to social etiquette than enjoying the gathering.

Workplace Birthday Celebrations: A Double-Edged Sword

At some workplaces, employees are expected to bring food if their birthday falls on a workday. While this tradition aims to foster camaraderie, it can be uncomfortable for those who prefer to keep their personal life private and not celebrate at work. Forcing employees to participate in such celebrations can feel intrusive and may even lead to resentment.

Moreover, this expectation can place undue pressure on employees who may feel obligated to spend time and money on these celebrations. It turns what should be a personal milestone into a workplace obligation, detracting from the joy of the occasion.

The Uncomfortable Reality of Forced Hugs

Forced hugging as a greeting, even with strangers, can be uncomfortable and invasive, particularly for individuals with a history of sexual assault or those who simply dislike being touched. Many people do not enjoy or consent to physical contact such as hugs from acquaintances or strangers, making this social norm uncomfortable for them.

Respecting personal boundaries is crucial, and forcing physical contact can have negative repercussions. Teaching children about consent should include respecting their boundaries when they do not want to hug someone, even if it’s a family member or a teacher. This early lesson in autonomy can have lasting positive effects on their understanding of personal boundaries and consent.

The Health Risks of Shaking Hands

Shaking hands can spread germs, and during COVID lockdowns, many people stayed healthier by avoiding this practice. Avoiding handshakes during the pandemic demonstrated that this common greeting is not essential and can be replaced with safer alternatives. The health benefits observed from not shaking hands suggest reconsidering this practice in the future.

People often shake hands and then disclose that they have been sick, which can be unsettling and counterproductive to maintaining good health. This highlights the need for more hygienic greeting practices that can help prevent the spread of illnesses.

Social Norms and Genuine Interactions

The pressure to conform to social etiquette around food and greetings can detract from genuine, comfortable interactions. Social norms around food sharing can create unnecessary tension and awkwardness in group settings. Similarly, physical greetings like hugs can be particularly distressing for survivors of trauma, emphasizing the need for more considerate social practices.

By reevaluating these norms, we can create a more inclusive and comfortable environment for everyone. Respecting personal boundaries and preferences can lead to more authentic and enjoyable social interactions, free from the pressures of outdated or intrusive social expectations.

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