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Social Norms: Socially Acceptable or Social Suicide

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Social Norms: Socially Acceptable or Social Suicide

Social Norms: Socially Acceptable or Social Suicide

Most people would agree that elevators are somewhat uncomfortable places. First, there are too many people crowded into a small space. Most people try to maintain personal boundaries, but quickly realize that their neighbor is often closer to them than they would like. Second, we were raised to think that talking to strangers is a horrible act that would inevitably place one in harm’s way. Therefore, elevators seem to embody a monastic vow of silence. Conversations on elevators are perfunctory and usually carried out quickly in politeness. It is my belief that when a person is in this uncomfortable situation, they would rather say nothing or pretend nothing ever happened than acknowledge what is happening around them.

After my interpersonal communications class, a great idea came to mind for this essay. I wondered if a person could simply defy a social norms and affect another persons behavior. As I entered one of the elevators on the seventh floor of the Liberal Arts Building, I thought it would be interesting to sit on the floor as we made the descent to the first floor and only communicate nonverbally. Nonverbal communication by definition refers to all aspects of a message which are not conveyed by the literal meaning of words. Nonverbal communication is also a category by exclusion; as such it is almost impossible to exactly define what it contains. Nonetheless, for a nonverbal behavior to constitute communication, information must be transmitted and received. It is important to note however, that such nonverbal behavior does not require the intent to communicate in order to do so.

Nonverbal communication is a very tricky and sometimes ineffective communication medium. For example, some gestures are universal and easily understood. However, others are not, and holding an entire conversation without speaking becomes a little more difficult and confusing. Not only is it hard for one to convert words into gestures, motions, or expressions, it is also equally as hard for the other party to derive meaning from those same gestures. This is what made the other students in the elevator uncomfortable.

I was curious to see the reaction of the other people on the elevator to this odd behavior. The results were very interesting and yet quite predictable. Two or three people stared at me with

astonishment but as soon as we made eye contact,

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