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SocietySpiegeloog 419: Harmony

Do Social Norms Bring Harmony to Society?

By May 11, 2022No Comments

As humans, we tend to expect others to follow rules, written or unwritten. There is something harmonious about agreement, and we can all agree that harmony amongst each other is typically desirable. This sounds simple, but it is not. Harmony isn’t brought into society as quickly as dissonance. What really is the relationship between societal norms and harmony?

As humans, we tend to expect others to follow rules, written or unwritten. There is something harmonious about agreement, and we can all agree that harmony amongst each other is typically desirable. This sounds simple, but it is not. Harmony isn’t brought into society as quickly as dissonance. What really is the relationship between societal norms and harmony?

Photo by Mauro Mora

Photo by Mauro Mora

The rules that are said to create and maintain such harmony are called social norms. What exactly is meant by these rules? Social norms are comprised of behaviour that is considered typical by society, such as descriptive norms, and what is considered proper, also called injunctive norms (APA, n. d). What is considered right and who considers this has been a question discussed in social psychology and philosophy for a long time. Through these discussions, it is established how we, as humans, function in society. This isn’t necessarily something that we are born with. For example, respecting elders is (often) considered a must in many cultures. A “well-mannered” person will respect their elders. Looking at this example, we see how humans have worked together to maintain this injunctive norm; everyone agrees that it is good to respect elders. Due to this notion, if a population is grouped by age, the younger ages and older ages could live harmoniously since the social norm causes the older-aged group to look favourably upon the younger-aged group, as the younger-aged group makes the older-aged group feel respected. Let’s look at a sociocultural approach to this.

Social norms are used to maintain harmony as they tell us how to behave in a specific way that aligns with the way society behaves at large, making it the socially acceptable way. One of the most important factors to look at when discussing social norms is perception. The way we perceive other humans and their behaviours influence the social norms that we build in our society. Ip (2014) looked at harmony in Hong Kong and China through a sociocultural perspective. The report examined the societal perceptions that people have of harmony and found that 75.8% of participants regarded society in China as stable, whereas 17.4% did not. In this case. Social norms that we keep help bring stability to a society. They help with social conflicts, social fairness, sense of social security and social support. These were the factors that the report looks at. The same report also found that 74.9% of the participants perceived Chinese society as harmonious. It can be extracted that the study shows an apparent connection between stability in society and harmony. The report also states how social harmony was positively correlated with happiness. As humans, we tend to seek happiness for comfort and joy, which shows how social norms, that are built by us, could lead to the combined benefit of society, but also the individual benefit of every person in society.

“Why do we need harmony in the first place?”

It is important to ask, why do we need harmony in the first place? What would the world around us look like without harmony? One could say that without harmony, there would be wars, not just inside a society, but between societies. In the past, we’ve seen discord between countries that led to world wars, we’ve seen violence in neighbourhoods and conflicts even between cultures and religions. Could the lack of harmony, amongst other factors, lead to such violence?

A contradicting argument looks at violence through Steven Pinker’s views, stating that violence has declined over the years (Pinker, 2012). If violence has declined, and conflicts are less intense nowadays, then harmony would, in equilibrium, have increased in society. Descriptively, harmony has then, over the years, strengthened within societies, as well as between societies. It is, then, quite peculiar to note that Varnum (2019) conducted a study which found that social norms have weakened over the past 200 years in the United States. This undermines the argument that social norms help increase social harmony in society. If people are conforming less with social norms, yet harmony has increased, then it indicates that humans are not experiencing  the need to follow certain rules, or be influenced by others, to behave a certain way to find happiness within society, and the same could be said for the need to implement rules and influence others. Another possible explanation could be that social norms have the opposite effect on harmony in some cases. Such as when a group in society is asked, by another group, to follow a social norm that they do not approve of. This could cause dissonance within the society due to conflict in opinions around that social norm. However, this argument may be far fetched  and hard to prove scientifically as groups could help develop the norm instead of contradicting it, or groups could follow the norm explicitly, without agreeing to it implicitly.

“If people are conforming less with social norms, yet harmony has increased, it indicates that humans don't need to follow certain rules to find happiness.”

Taking both arguments into consideration, it is prevalent that the relationship between social norms and harmony in society is much more complex, with intricate pathways built within the walls between these two concepts. It should also be considered that there are other factors that influence harmony and conflict in society, such as the cultural values of that society, and the general economical states of the members of that society. Furthermore, there are other reasons for the existence and importance of social norms, and not just for the benefit of harmony in society. However, if there is a positive correlation between social norms and harmony, we need to look towards finding implications. As stated earlier, social norms are becoming increasingly weaker, and if this development was to affect harmony, we must look at what we, as individuals of society, can do to maintain harmony.

It is important to question what each of us brings to the table and what we get from the rest of the people sitting around the table. Whether it is following social norms, or some alternative factor, being in harmony with our society could possibly help bring harmony within our individual self. In repetition, the relationship between social norms and harmony is complex. Finally, the talk around social norms and harmony is uncommon, which warrants further research into the topic. <<

References

– American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Social norms. In APA dictionary of psychology.
– Ip, P.-K. (2013). Harmony as Happiness? Social Harmony in Two Chinese Societies. Social Indicators Research, 117(3), 719–741.
– Pinker, S. (2012). The better angels of our nature. Penguin.
– Varnum, M. E. W. (2019). Social norms are becoming weaker. Nature Human Behaviour, 3(3), 211–211.

The rules that are said to create and maintain such harmony are called social norms. What exactly is meant by these rules? Social norms are comprised of behaviour that is considered typical by society, such as descriptive norms, and what is considered proper, also called injunctive norms (APA, n. d). What is considered right and who considers this has been a question discussed in social psychology and philosophy for a long time. Through these discussions, it is established how we, as humans, function in society. This isn’t necessarily something that we are born with. For example, respecting elders is (often) considered a must in many cultures. A “well-mannered” person will respect their elders. Looking at this example, we see how humans have worked together to maintain this injunctive norm; everyone agrees that it is good to respect elders. Due to this notion, if a population is grouped by age, the younger ages and older ages could live harmoniously since the social norm causes the older-aged group to look favourably upon the younger-aged group, as the younger-aged group makes the older-aged group feel respected. Let’s look at a sociocultural approach to this.

Social norms are used to maintain harmony as they tell us how to behave in a specific way that aligns with the way society behaves at large, making it the socially acceptable way. One of the most important factors to look at when discussing social norms is perception. The way we perceive other humans and their behaviours influence the social norms that we build in our society. Ip (2014) looked at harmony in Hong Kong and China through a sociocultural perspective. The report examined the societal perceptions that people have of harmony and found that 75.8% of participants regarded society in China as stable, whereas 17.4% did not. In this case. Social norms that we keep help bring stability to a society. They help with social conflicts, social fairness, sense of social security and social support. These were the factors that the report looks at. The same report also found that 74.9% of the participants perceived Chinese society as harmonious. It can be extracted that the study shows an apparent connection between stability in society and harmony. The report also states how social harmony was positively correlated with happiness. As humans, we tend to seek happiness for comfort and joy, which shows how social norms, that are built by us, could lead to the combined benefit of society, but also the individual benefit of every person in society.

“Why do we need harmony in the first place?”

It is important to ask, why do we need harmony in the first place? What would the world around us look like without harmony? One could say that without harmony, there would be wars, not just inside a society, but between societies. In the past, we’ve seen discord between countries that led to world wars, we’ve seen violence in neighbourhoods and conflicts even between cultures and religions. Could the lack of harmony, amongst other factors, lead to such violence?

A contradicting argument looks at violence through Steven Pinker’s views, stating that violence has declined over the years (Pinker, 2012). If violence has declined, and conflicts are less intense nowadays, then harmony would, in equilibrium, have increased in society. Descriptively, harmony has then, over the years, strengthened within societies, as well as between societies. It is, then, quite peculiar to note that Varnum (2019) conducted a study which found that social norms have weakened over the past 200 years in the United States. This undermines the argument that social norms help increase social harmony in society. If people are conforming less with social norms, yet harmony has increased, then it indicates that humans are not experiencing  the need to follow certain rules, or be influenced by others, to behave a certain way to find happiness within society, and the same could be said for the need to implement rules and influence others. Another possible explanation could be that social norms have the opposite effect on harmony in some cases. Such as when a group in society is asked, by another group, to follow a social norm that they do not approve of. This could cause dissonance within the society due to conflict in opinions around that social norm. However, this argument may be far fetched  and hard to prove scientifically as groups could help develop the norm instead of contradicting it, or groups could follow the norm explicitly, without agreeing to it implicitly.

“If people are conforming less with social norms, yet harmony has increased, it indicates that humans don't need to follow certain rules to find happiness.”

Taking both arguments into consideration, it is prevalent that the relationship between social norms and harmony in society is much more complex, with intricate pathways built within the walls between these two concepts. It should also be considered that there are other factors that influence harmony and conflict in society, such as the cultural values of that society, and the general economical states of the members of that society. Furthermore, there are other reasons for the existence and importance of social norms, and not just for the benefit of harmony in society. However, if there is a positive correlation between social norms and harmony, we need to look towards finding implications. As stated earlier, social norms are becoming increasingly weaker, and if this development was to affect harmony, we must look at what we, as individuals of society, can do to maintain harmony.

It is important to question what each of us brings to the table and what we get from the rest of the people sitting around the table. Whether it is following social norms, or some alternative factor, being in harmony with our society could possibly help bring harmony within our individual self. In repetition, the relationship between social norms and harmony is complex. Finally, the talk around social norms and harmony is uncommon, which warrants further research into the topic. <<

References

– American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Social norms. In APA dictionary of psychology.
– Ip, P.-K. (2013). Harmony as Happiness? Social Harmony in Two Chinese Societies. Social Indicators Research, 117(3), 719–741.
– Pinker, S. (2012). The better angels of our nature. Penguin.
– Varnum, M. E. W. (2019). Social norms are becoming weaker. Nature Human Behaviour, 3(3), 211–211.
Samarth Kambli

Author Samarth Kambli

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