Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

Do you think the lax attitude regarding etiquette and social requirements today compared to the past makes social situations more difficult rather than less?

Asked by JLeslie (47743 points ) July 9th, 2012

It seems to me in the past there were more rules, specific rules, of how to behave and what is expected in social situations. Now it seems more like a free for all and that parents less and less guide their children in such matters. Or, at minimum that parents have less of a repertoire for what is required, because society has lower expectations of conforming to very specific rules regarding etiquette. Things understandably became more blurry in modern society, and many people feel less rules and lower expectations are easier, less stressful, and less judgmental.

But, for those who need strong guidelines and structure, this makes their life more difficult maybe? Harder to fake it til you make it? Maybe it also means more people are likely to do something that offends someone or does not meet up to social norms. Or, maybe it is the opposite?

Bonus question: Also, what about the diagnosis of asperger’s? Do you think it is especially harder for people who are not naturally outgoing and who tend to be withdrawn in social situations, who can be ultra focused and less aware of the people around them, and so maybe it accounts for us diagnosing asperger’s more? Seems a very specific set of instructions on expectations in a social interaction can help people like that? I think probably a good percentage of our scientists in the past and now have at least some characteristics of asperger’s, I am not so sure I would call it abnormal, but just a different personality type. My knowledge about asperger’s is rather minimal so I am sending the Q to people who know more about it for this part of the question.

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18 Answers

DigitalBlue's avatar

I think that I am one of those “fringe” people that has a hard time really understanding all of the formalities. I suppose that I interpret and “understand’ them to some degree, but it all seems silly to me. I am very straightforward, I say what I think and what I mean. I do remember to be kind, because kindness is a social thing that makes sense to me. I find it easiest to connect with other people who are very straightforward. Many people strike me as “fake,” but I think of it as a social norm. I’m sure that I do it, I’m sure that most people do… I just have difficulty grasping it quite as well as others.
It’s hard for me to compare it to other cultures or the history of humans as social creatures, but I know that my tendency to want to just say whatever I am thinking, and also my tendency to shy away from a lot of social rituals that are common, are where my strengths and challenges are.
I don’t really know that etiquette is less rigid, necessarily, I think it has just shifted.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I believe that the lack of a formulaic approach to social interactions makes it harder for those who are introverted or who are not naturals at relationships, etc. Some people are more or less born with an intuitive understanding of how to befriend people and charm. Those who do not have this intuition (be it because of a lack of socialization as a child, poor role models, or because of asperger’s and the like) used to have a set of rules to conform to, that made social interaction less a matter of intuition and more a matter of memorization.

For those who like to be rude, there is always the excuse of not knowing better with things as they are. I’m not fond of this excuse, and I have heard a lot of it.

But, the plus side is for those who prefer not to follow rules, and for those who can innovate socially. We have an open dialogue on many things that would have never been spoken of in the old days, and terrible social norms have been upended. It is a trade off, but I think gay rights and women’s rights and minorities’ rights are worth it.

Nullo's avatar

I would think so. I’m no good at coming up with protocol on the fly. Along with language, etiquette serves to bridge the gap between people.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I’m not sure that your primary premise is correct. I would suggest that the formal attitudes of decades gone by were artificially stilted and puritanical, and were then not reflective of how people wanted to live. They were ‘acting out’ formality, not because they wished to but because society 9whoever that is) demanded it of them.

And who was doing the demanding? It was the rich and idle, who had nothing to do but play these silly games instead of working for an honest living.

I would reply to your question by saying that the “laxity” today is actually much closer to ‘normal’ in the long term, and that it is healthy for people to live without acting out a role 18 hours a day.

Sunny2's avatar

Spontaneity has its price. Too many rules is stultifying. Learning to listen, being kind and modest would be more important than all the rules of old, in my opinion.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Sunny2 – anyone who uses the word ‘stultifying’ in a sentence gets a GA from me.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@elbanditoroso I would mostly agree with you. It seems like most groups have the same level of rules, it’s just that they differ in what those rules are. There are groups where it’s really important to know which fork to use and racial issues are verboten as a topic, and groups where people couldn’t care less if you use the right fork but to not talk about racial issues would be a faux pas.

thorninmud's avatar

Interesting question.

Templates for social behaviors have upsides and downsides. Ideally, they allow us to live in society without ruffling each others’ feathers unintentionally. But in practice, they can become a hollow display of respect that substitutes for the real thing, and they can even be used to stigmatize those who haven’t mastered them as low-class. So I think we have to be careful not to overly romanticize all these scripts.

Things get problematic when not everyone is playing by the same rules. That’s bound to happen in heterogeneous societies like ours. For example, I heard a discussion a couple of days ago among black Americans about what they find off-putting about the behavior of white Americans. Several mentioned how offensive they found it that whites often enter a social event in progress and fail to go around and acknowledge everyone else in the gathering. They found this very offensive and an indication of haughtiness. The few whites participating in this discussion were aghast that it was seen this way. Different “rule book”.

There’s a place for behavioral templates, but they can become quite a problem when they’re taken as absolutes.

Paradox25's avatar

I think that rules or conformity can be a bad thing, especially when taken to the extreme. I do agree that there needs to be some form of etiquette and basic manners, but they don’t need to surpass anything beyond the treating others as you would want to be treated guidelines. I think that too many rules/guidelines, or at least a few rigid ones, can take away from the original premise of treating others the way you would want to be treated.

It is not necessarily the actions (or in this case certain mannerisms/etiquette) by themselves which cause havoc for others, but rather the motivations behind them. This is because when actions occur as a result due to certain motivational reasons, they tend to perpetuate themselves, whether they’re considered good or bad. Decency and etiquette are not always necessarily mutual, and in my opinion sometimes they combat each other.

JLeslie's avatar

One of the rules of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable. So, when someone does not comply or is unaware of the rule, we are not supposed to judge or ridicule, but be accepting or inform them of the rule, depending on what is appropriate.

jca's avatar

I grew up in the 1970’s, when the rules were in the process of changing but there were still the older ways and I was brought up with the older ways – you greet people nicely, you thank people for having you over, you don’t go to people’s houses empty handed, you don’t eat and run at someone’s house, you (should) write thank you notes, you don’t ask people to give you things, you wait until they offer, you try to avoid giving harsh opinions on religion and politics. I don’t live by a zillion rules, but the ones I mentioned above usually help me get by well enough. Luckily, I’m pretty laid back so I kind of roll with the punches, so between trying to stick to my own little set of rules that I’ve been taught and that I grew up with, and rolling with the punches and being laid back, I think I am a fairly easy person to socialize with. .

laurenkem's avatar

@jca , those rules sound hauntingly familiar to me as the basics that I was taught by my parents. The only one I didn’t see in your post was “you never show up at someone’s home uninvited and unannounced*. And “announced” doesn’t mean calling me from your cell phone when you’re in my driveway to tell me you’re there.

jca's avatar

@laurenkem: Yes, that one too. I never show up unannounced!

tinyfaery's avatar

Easier, sure, but not necessarily for the better. The pressure of social etiquette could be devastating to some. Even though I can understand the benefits of it, I think the lack of pressure to behave just so seems a lot better than forcing people to behave accordingly.

jca's avatar

@tinyfaery: Nobody is “forced” to behave “just so.” It’s a matter of some general tips that are good to remember. Believe me, I am not prim and proper by any means, but I do try to keep simple things in mind as a guide to help get by.

Nullo's avatar

@tinyfaery Behavior is another medium for communication. Etiquette is a sort of language – not sufficient to match the spoken word in terms of breadth or detail, but certainly enough to add a layer to it.

I had someone at work get my attention by staring at me, after which she made demands without a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you,’ or anything else resembling gratitude or even a general goodwill. She communicated well enough, but I found the entire experience an unpleasant one.

JLeslie's avatar

Interesting. When I think of etiquette I don’t usually think of the verbal rules like please, thank you, and may I, but of course they count. I think of the eye contact, hand shake, introductions, how to hold a fork and knife, holding a door for others, giving my seat up, acknowledge a gift, etc.

Nullo's avatar

@JLeslie I figure that courtesy is part of etiquette.

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