Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Social Conventions We Can Do Without

America uber alles.
To steal from Wikipedia, social conventions are “a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally-accepted standards, norms, social norms, or criteria, often taking the form of a custom.” In other words, it is stuff we do because everyone else is doing it. These conventions are generally steeped in tradition. And, often times, they are wasteful, harmful, and just plain stupid. Below are the ten worst social conventions scientifically ranked based on their wastefulness, harmfulness, and stupidity.

10. Those Tiny Little Lies We Tell Everyone

These are the canned responses we blurt out many times a day without thinking. “I’m fine.” “You’re not fat.” “No, I really am interested in your dream.” Etc. We do this to make interactions go more smoothly. If we aren’t “fine,” then we need to go into great detail about why we are not. Anorexia is propagated by our inability to tell people they are fat. We tell everyone from the obese to the super skinny that they are not fat. It is an obvious lie for the obese, but those suffering from anorexia cannot tell if it is a lie when applied to them. This, of course, is not the only factor leading to anorexia, but our inability to be honest about our bodies certainly does not help.

9. We Must All Dress Nice for This Funeral, Wedding, Bris
This is never appropriate attire no matter how comfortable you may be.
Here, in Eugene, we’ve moved on from this convention. At any given event, one sees the entire spectrum of casual-to-formal wear, from the banana hammock (only kind-of kidding) to the three-piece suit. But, elsewhere, there is the expectation that we honor those who have died, married, or had the tip of their penis lopped off by wearing incredibly uncomfortable clothing. Let us dress as comfortably as we’d like, and we won’t rush off after the ceremony.

8. Not Taking the Last Deviled Egg

At any social gathering where food is offered, we see these sad platters with only one food item left on them. Take it! Don’t let the food go to waste! There are starving children in Africa! If it helps, psychology studies show the alpha male is usually the one who takes the last food item on a tray.

7. Awkward Hand Gestures
This hand gesture required zero synchronization with a second person.
It used to be that the simple hand shake with a firm grip was the standard. Nowadays, it’s a bit more complicated. There are way too many variants of hand gestures that require both parties be on the same page to pull it off. And, both parties are rarely on the same page. We can’t even do the hand shake right these days. Half the time, some guy squeezes the ends of our fingers. Maybe that’s an alpha male thing too. Perhaps, we should just stick with saying “hi” and not touching.

6. False Chivalry

We’re going to focus on holding doors here because that is where we encounter the most stupidity, but there are other acts of pseudo-chivalry that just as easily follow this pattern. With door holding, if there is anyone within fifteen feet of us when we open a door, we are almost expected to hold it for them. This holds true even when the doorholder has her hands full and is 87 years old and the physically-capable “holdee” has both hands free. Half the time, the doorholder is on his phone or otherwise preoccupied, and he will block the entrance into the building through his “chivalrous” act. Let’s keep the door holding to situations where it is actually needed.

5. Expected Pleasantries: Thanks Yous, Happy Birthdays, etc.

On one’s birthday, we are expected to say happy birthday. If someone does something, no matter how small, we say thank you. Both of these gestures have lost all meaning. We say happy birthday to companies now. We thank cashiers for selling us things. We do these things because there are guilt mongers out there who will attempt to make us feel like crap if we don’t engage in these trivial acts. Avoid these people! And, avoid thanking someone or wishing them a happy birthday out of obligation! Only do it when truly moved to do so!

4. “God Bless You”

When someone sneezes, we are expected to acknowledge it. This is an archaic practice based on superstition. But, let’s humor the “God bless you” for a moment here. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine there is a God. There are people working their asses off to help the poor and needy who are rarely offered a “God bless you” for their work. Why do we give the fat slob double-fisting Big Macs and contributing nothing to society a blessing from God for merely sneezing?

3. The Playing of the Star-Spangled Banner before Events

We perform the Star-Spangled Banner before events to promote nationalism. It’s to beat the drum of America uber alles. It’s to program us to mindlessly follow the crowd. And, if we don’t stand up and remove our hats for this ritual, we are vile scum of the earth…and not citizens of a free country enjoying said freedom.

2. Gift-Giving Events

This is so entrenched in our society that it is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Around Christmastime or birthdays, we give thoughtless,obligatory gifts to loved ones and acquaintances alike because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We get stressed out about it. Only a small fraction of the gifts we get are useful to us. The rest is waste. The wrapping paper is waste. The mass-produced greeting cards are a waste. If we are truly moved to give a gift to someone, why not just give it to them regardless of the time of year? If we can’t think of something to get someone, don’t get them anything. Spend some time with them instead. We’ve shit on this planet enough: we don’t need to continue with this insane parade of wastefulness.

1. Tipping

Tips exist to keep employers from having to pay their workers a living wage. Let’s get rid of tips and increase the pay and benefits for service workers. Sure, this will lead to increased prices, but it evens out. “But, what incentive will servers have to provide good service?” They’ll have the same incentives the rest of us have: taking pride in our work and wanting to keep our jobs or get promoted. Unfortunately, this is not a practice that one person can act on alone.  Do not stiff the waiters!

What social conventions annoy you? Please share below.

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