Essay on the Functional Importance of Social Norms

2. A normless society is impossibility:

Norms constitute an important element of society. Norms and society go together. Without norms social interaction would be dangerous, difficult and chaotic. The normative order of the society makes the factual order of society possible.

Man cannot live alone. He depends upon society for his existence. Living together in society is made possible because of norms. Man’s dependence on society is ultimately a dependence upon a normative order.

3. Norms guide behaviour:

Norms guide behaviour in all aspects of social life. There are norms of dress which define the type of clothing appropriate for members of each age, sex and social situation. There are norms governing behaviour with family, friends, neighbours and strangers.

There are norms which define acceptable behaviour in the home, in the classroom, working place, wor­shipping place, at a party, wedding and funeral, in a cinema, market place, doctor’s waiting room, etc.

4. Norms permit efficient functioning:

Norms provide for the routinisation of behaviour so that complex learnt tasks come to be performed efficiently and automatically. Most of our responses to most of the situations must be habitual ones; norms ensure such habitual responses.

If we had to think about what we are going to do when we enter a shop, a showroom, a classroom, a cafeteria, or meet a bank clerk, an advocate, an insurance agent, a ticket seller, we should be able to do only a few tasks in the course of a day.

But norms reduce the necessity for decision in the innumerable social situations which we face and in which we participate. Without them we would be faced with the problem of almost intolerable burden of decision.

Norms thus provide practical solutions to every­day problems. Even cooking becomes problematic if cooking norms are not known. Social life would be much less efficient if the methods of doing had to be constantly reinvented by trial and error.

5. Norms help the maintenance of social order:

The social order is developed and main­tained through social norms. Groups are able to function because human behaviour is generally predictable. If this were not so chaos would result.

Thus, a classroom would be chaotic in which teachers and students fail to establish a set of rules for conducting lessons. Drivers of vehicles are bound to meet with accidents if they fail to conform to traffic rules in a busy street.

Human culture can be understood as vast integrated normative system. That system serves for man the functions of controlling and other animals through instincts. Normative system permits more variability and flexibility of behaviour than biological structure does. Hence human societies have achieved wonderful complexity. Social norms provide the primary mechanism through which that complexity is achieved and maintained.

6. Norms give Cohesion to Society:

A society without norms would be, as Hobbes pointed out, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” The collective and co-operative life of people is made possible because of norms. The normative system gives to society an internal cohesion without which social life is not possible. This cohesion or unity contributes to co-operation and mutual helpfulness.

7. Norms help self-control:

Norms not only lessen the problems of social control but also help individuals to have self-control. In fact, social control is achieved when self-control is mastered. Because of the pressure of norms the individual is able to exercise discipline by himself over his own actions and behaviour. Norms in this way influence an individual’s attitude and his motives and impulses.

They determine and guide his intuitive judgements of others and his intuitive judgements of himself. They lead to the phenomena of conscience, of guilt feelings, of striving, of elation and depression. They are deeper than consciousness. Through internalisation they become an insepa­rable part of the personality of the individual.