Cultural Norms

Cultural Norms

The term “culture” is defined as the concepts, habits, skills, and institutions of a given people in a given period.

The term “norm” means a standard or pattern for a group.  Norms exist for the continued functioning of the group, the meaning of life and the motivation for survival, the maintenance of order, dealing with outsiders, and socializing new members.  A norm is, in a fundamental sense, a shared rule or guide to behavior that is deemed appropriate or inappropriate.

Unless your culture (and therefore your norms) is different from the societal majority where you live, you have probably not given much thought to the fact that you live in a culture and this culture has a determined standard for each of the persons living in that culture.  You are probably only aware of cultural norms if you are a first generation American or belong to a group considered a minority.

However, it is important for each of us to become aware of the norms of the culture to which we belong because these rules/guidelines directly influence how we interact with others – what we say and do as well as how others perceive what we say and do.

There are five basic cultures in which most of us function on a normal basis:  intimate relationships, family, friends, community, and work.

And, we’ll be attending to eight norm areas that we deal with each day:  definition of the culture, roles one plays in the culture, expectations/rules of the culture, use of power/influence (who, what, where, when, and why), decision-making/cooperation (how this is handled), formality/informality (how informal or formal this culture is), boundaries/intimacy of the culture, and communication/language usage within the culture.

Take time to define for yourself what your norms are for each of the eight areas of each of the cultures.  You may be surprised at what you discover.  You may get answers to some concerns you have had regarding why there have been issues in one or more of these cultures.  Also, you may find that the culture within which you are functioning may not be the majority culture and therefore your norms are much different from those around you, indicating a need to become sensitive to the cultural norms of those with whom you are attempting to have relationships.

Each of us lives within our cultural norms, providing an unspoken but profoundly significant foundation for how we see and deal with the world around us.

As a first-generation American from a Scandinavian background who was culturally isolated during my formative years, I am made aware each day of how my ingrained cultural norms differ from others. This knowledge assists me in that I am aware that it is necessary for me to make allowances for these differences if I am to function effectively within the majority culture.

So, enjoy getting to know yourself from a cultural and norm vantage point and honor your culture and your norms while being sensitive to others and their cultural norms.  You will find that relationships function more smoothly when you do!

Copyright 2020 Lynn Borenius Brown

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