Social Norms

What am I going to write about? Sometimes while I write I surprise myself with the ending. Somehow, I tie it all together. Or maybe I just think I do a good job of it. That’s enough for me right now.

We saw our place for the first time as the homeowners. My parents and sister saw it for the first time too. I could see the pride my dad had for me. It was a great feeling. Eliz was measuring everything like crazy and making her plans. She’s been working with her mom to put together a brand-new floor-plan. I’ve seen her work in the past and I can’t wait to see how she is planning to utilize all the space we have now.

I seriously have nowhere to go with this. At times, I think, this is a great thing to blog about but when I sit down to write, it doesn’t come to mind. I don’t wait for it either. I think if I were to just sit here and wait it wouldn’t be a pleasurable experience. I don’t want to think too much about what I’m writing. I don’t really have anyone proofread my work. I simply look out for the obvious spelling mistakes. Also, Word is helpful enough with the red and blue lines now that point out spelling and grammatical errors, respectively.

If I wanted to, I know I could ask a friend of mine to help me proofread. He has a great way with words. I aspire to be at that level. The more I read the wider my vocabulary gets. However, I feel pretentious when I begin to talk using some of those words. Why is that?

I think it has a lot to do with the friends I had growing up. Where I come from, you can go into the neighbourhood and have a conversation in English yet not understand the majority of it. Slang has always been a major part of my life. I enjoy speaking in slang but I can’t do that anymore, especially in a professional setting.

A part of me says I don’t want to speak using slang anymore but a part of me wants to hold on to it. I feel like if I completely stop using slang then it’s an admission into adulthood. I start to become the pretentious person that I always made fun of. Maybe I had it wrong. Not everyone that speaks properly with a strong vocabulary is being snarky. I listen to Tim Ferris’ podcast and he always has guests that speak with great command of the language. I feel my vocabulary getting stronger, yet I suppress some of it when speaking to friends. I used to suppress it even more when speaking to friends from my past.

What am I afraid of? I feel like I will be judged for changing so much. I worry I may not be the same old Mehmet that everyone seemed to be so fond of. I’m doing it less now. I’m being more honest with myself and my surroundings. I have changed. Everyone can see it. I think it’s for the better, at least I hope. I read more and it helps me improve my vocabulary. I am a vegetarian. I’m engaged. I’m starting a business. I’m in a great position at a growing company. We bought a house. With all this change, I feel like I may be losing track of myself. On the other hand, I may be closer to myself than ever before.

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

I never used to listen to myself. I don’t mean it in terms of listening to my own advice. I simply mean, asking myself what is most important and implementing the actions in the response. I always went with the flow. I spoke how my friends spoke. I was into what my friends were into. I’m still that way in many aspects. I’m a firm believer in John Rohn’s quote “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” In my case that number may be a little higher. I’m fortunate enough to have more than 5 close friends.

I’m becoming more and more comfortable with being different. Being a vegetarian helps with this. Nobody else I know, besides Eliz, is a vegetarian. My parents still ask me every brunch if I eat eggs. We are different in an obvious way because we don’t eat what everyone else in our lives eat. There was a challenge in 4 Hour Work Week that I really wanted to try when I first read it 2 years ago. The exercise was to lay down in a public place. It could be a Starbucks or a farmer’s market. 3 weeks ago, I did it. I laid down in the middle of a restaurant and it was a great moment. Once I laid down I was extremely nervous. I’m not breaking any laws. I wasn’t even in the way. Other people started to look over. One guy turned a corner and jumped back. My sister was sitting at the table, pregnant as ever, with her head in her hand, laughing hysterically.

I don’t think I was on the ground more than a minute. At first it was a huge rush of emotion but then I became comfortable. I think I could’ve stayed longer but my sister insisted I sit at the table. I was afraid to do it for 2 years, yet once I did it, I thought ‘Is this what I was so afraid of?’ I listened to Ferris’ podcast with Dr. Phil Zimbardo,  he is widely known for the Stanford Prison Experiment and they were discussing how social norms can be detrimental to society. In certain, specific, situations it can even lead to evil.

Their conversation reminded me of a book that I read when I was in university. I don’t remember the name of it but I remember a portion of it that explained how a group of regular men, that were drafted into the Nazi regime, were given a choice. The leading officer told them they were going to be killing Jewish people all day and if they didn’t want to, they could leave. There would be no consequences. I don’t remember the exact number but I remember it was staggering. Out of 30 or so people, only 2 decided to leave. The others stayed and killed people all day. These were bakers, auto mechanics, plumbers, regular people that were overcome by the pressures of their surroundings.

Obviously, this example is extreme. However, I still believe we are all too accustomed to social norms. There are many things that we do simply because “it’s the way it is.” For instance, 9-5 work day. I still don’t understand how this is the most prevalent work hours in North America, especially for people that can do their work from an office. It’s the way it is and we accept it. Day in and day out we continue with these social norms that are clearly defective.

My advice is to identify a moment, when you do something because it is a social norm, that you may not otherwise have done. An example Dr. Zimbardo shared is how we simply ignore people that are homeless. I thought about this and how I conform to this social norm. Any time I’ve seen a homeless person it has been in a major city on a crowded street. People are all walking by, some may drop a coin in the hat but nobody stops to say anything to the person, myself included.

A few weeks ago, when I was walking Niko at the park at dawn, I saw someone sitting on the hill a few yards off the path. I immediately asked if he was okay. It turned out to be a young kid waiting for his friend. I couldn’t tell because of his big jacket and scarf. It could have easily been a homeless man. In fact, that’s what I thought. I experienced this before listening to the podcast and since then, I’ve seen a homeless man in a crowded street in Toronto and simply stopped and chatted for 30 seconds about the weather. I know, I’m a freaking philanthropist. Obviously, it isn’t much but I think it’s progress.

We all do things because that’s the social norm. We also avoid doing things because of social pressures. Whether that’s in the workplace or our personal lives. My advice is to start becoming wary of these social pressures that are preventing you from reaching a goal. The moment you realize that you can ask for the raise because there is no rule against it then you may take the leap. If your coworkers that have been there forever haven’t asked for a raise doesn’t mean you can’t. If you want to have an intimate conversation with your friend but you haven’t yet doesn’t mean you can’t be the one to break that social mold that you created with him. What’s the worst that can happen anyway? Break a social norm. Get out of your comfort zone. If nothing else, it makes for a great story.

Work towards happiness.

As always, would love to hear any feedback or criticism in the comments tab.


Author: Mehmet Akcagliyan

I am the Master of my Fate. I am the Captain of my Soul.

2 thoughts on “Social Norms”

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