(alternative link: https://soundcloud.com/cosmin-coky/sets/social-studies)
(alternative link: https://soundcloud.com/cosmin-coky/sets/social-studies)
How many times did you come across social actions that embarrassed either you or the people next to you? Let’s give a few examples: Going for a hug and receiving a handshake instead; Saying goodbye to someone before the bus arrives at its station, but realizing that you have to wait another minute before it comes to a full stop so you stare at each other not knowing what to say; Forgetting someone’s name; and many other situations which we consider awkward.
So what is it about this uncomfortable feeling that exists in our society that give it so much importance? On a day-to-day basis we struggle not to fall into the pit of awkwardness. I tend to think that this knowledge about what to do or not do in public is a positive thing; in other words: Feeling awkwardness is good for society.
We have to start by thinking about social behavior, about what we, as humans, do in everyday life. With the following graph I will explain how we mold our actions and how our actions are molded by several characteristics.
Let’s look at it from the bottom up. Firstly we have the Laws of Science that are pretty self-explanatory: we, as humans, can’t fly, achieve light speed or breathe underwater. We grow hair, not feathers, are warm blooded, eat and sleep. In other words we have learned either through our instincts or through our parents that we can’t mess with physics or biology, so we act accordingly.
Another factor that shapes our behavior lies within the laws and rules of your society. We know that stealing, assault or murder are deemed illegal and, as such, present grave risks for people that undertake such actions. The risks are of course fines or prison sentences and many times outweigh the benefits. So people generally follow these conducts in society:
Now we are left with etiquette or with what some consider to be manners. These are the unwritten rules of society that mark a person as being polite or impolite. They are customs/mores/traditions that guide us towards living together without conflict. It is not illegal, for example, to chew with your mouth open, to pick your nose in public or to turn your back on somebody when they are talking, but it is considered disgraceful. The risks that are present here are not like the ones mentioned before; instead a disrespectful person hazards being shunned out by society and being labeled as being rude, annoying or gross.
At the very top of this social behavior pyramid we have awkwardness, or self-consciousness. A process that finalizes our social mold. It smooths down social dynamics in places where laws and manners do not reach. There are no rules that state how long a hug should last and nobody could point you to a custom that states a duration clearly. The process of hugging can have so many variables that only the people involved can guess when to let go. When you hug your friend for longer than they expected it certainly is not illegal or impolite, but it is awkward.
This feeling that we generally associate with something bad or undesirable is one of the factors involved in having better cooperation between individuals in a society. It is a feeling that our brains have evolved into having so that we can get nudged into avoiding certain actions and live together peacefully. As humans we learn not to put our hand in fire; As citizens we understand that it is illegal to kill somebody; As members of society we know that it’s impolite to caught in another person’s direction; and as empathetic beings we now know what to avoid doing in public thanks to awkwardness.
Vsauce, The Science of Awkwardness, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o268qbb_0BM
Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, and Dacher Keltner, Flustered and Faithful: Embarrassment as a Signal of Prosociality, http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~keltner/publications/FeinbergWillerKeltner2012.pdf
Reddit, Cringe, http://www.reddit.com/r/cringe
Maia Szalavitz, Why Your Embarrassment Causes Me So Much Pain, http://healthland.time.com/2011/05/05/why-your-embarassment-causes-me-so-much-pain/
Kirsten Weir, Oh no you didn’t!, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/11/embarrassment.aspx
Ethan Kross, Marc G. Berman, Walter Mischel, Edward E. Smith, Tor D. Wager, Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain, http://www.pnas.org/content/108/15/6270.full?tab=author-info
Michael Torrice, Socially Awkward? Check Your Genes, http://news.sciencemag.org/social-sciences/2009/11/socially-awkward-check-your-genes
It was interesting, yet amusing to watch how Internet has divided into two separated groups as one of the most rated subject has been discussed and presented to the public. All the commotion that covered the Internet blogs and social media was in fact over a wall. A wall that the mayor of Baia Mare has built near a flat that was in fact occupied with gypsies in order to protect their children to not get hit by cars due to the fact that they consider the road to be their playground and in the summer nights they decide to lay on the road just to cool off.
Mayor’s decision was due to the fact that he has received many complaints from citizens that the road that passes by that community is not safe because, as the citizens say, gypsies had willingly encouraged their children to get hit by cars only to obtain material benefits from people that are too scared to be involved in an accident so they kind of blackmail them asking for money and goods in order for them to keep quiet about the incident.
The mayor decided to build up a wall in order to discourage the children to go in the street and injure themselves, soon after, as they were discouraged to go outside and litter in more places, they began littering near their apartments, throwing the garbage out their windows, soon the garbage has gathered up into piles and it kept rising. After seeing what the mayor did, many NGO’s that protect gypsy rights have sprung into stating that the action of the mayor is not legal, that it is a discrimination and that he needs to tear the wall down. The council has done numerous sanitary actions out of the regular citizen’s money, due to the fact that the piles of garbage were disturbing. The news has spread to other local news station and after that it became national news, due to the fact that certain NGO sued the mayor for discrimination.
All the Internet commenters have spread into two groups, one agreeing with the decision of the mayor and the other one blaming him of discrimination. The mayor has been fined soon after that with 5.000 lei and was asked to tear down the wall. The funny thing about it all is that everybody has a saying in those kinds of situations, but you don’t really know why the situation went the way it did. The wall was not built to discriminate, it was built so that the children could be safe and to reduce the probability of accidents, and it really did that, because the rate of accidents has fallen drastically since that. In my second part I will describe how the Mayor achieve to make the wall stand up, against certain NGO’s will and how gypsies reacted to the fact that they have a wall near their apartments.
And so I waited…
And waited… All the while keeping an eye on the man with which I thought I have become so familiar, due to the time spent together that I could write down his whole life story. By together I mean him barely standing and me trying to hide behind a pillar like James Bond in order not to spook him).
It must have been 15 to 20 minutes later when I was thinking to myself if they took the matter serious. Sure, it was a minor act of unlawful behavior that I reported, but still… “Should I call them back?” I asked myself. And at that very moment I spot the police car patrolling the main intersection and I attempt to flag them down like I would a cab driver. The officers were relaxed and professional, they asked me what had happened; one of them wrote down the events while the other tried to engage with the intoxicated man, who was now propped against a pillar trying to perhaps make sense off the things that have transpired.
After the officer tasked with interrogating the man returned he assured me that the poor soul couldn’t even utter a word in any known language and that legally they could not do anything to assure his displacement from that public place. I understood, as he had indeed, in the 20 minutes it took the police to reach him, renounced his life of grand theft auto crimes in order to pursue other, more calming, activities such as pointlessly staring into nothingness.
I took my leave without knowing what truly happened to the man, but before I did, I sincerely asked the police officer who was penciling my observations one last thing: “Did I do the right thing?” That question was not answered that day, as it was met with silence and a warm shoulder shrug. As I made my way home I repeated the question in my head as I turned one last time to see that the police was still there, as was the poor intoxicated man probably being helped by the officers to reach safer paths where he could sway away without hurting others.
The vital question of “Did I do the right thing?” was luckily answered the following week and I promise my readers that I will convey how I came across that answer in a subsequent post.
If you have enjoyed this story, be sure to check back next week when I will try to deliver another experience that I had. This time a more fruitful one for the Civic Responsibility and its common good.
And for those of you thinking these sort of things happen only in less democratic states, I leave you with this video:
I would like to share a humble story about this pressing matter with you so that you can decide if, indeed, civic responsibility should be a pillar of modern democracy or if that pillar is just so worn out that we might as well ignore it until it collapses. I would like to first start with the first definition that Google found for me on this topic from Tennessee State University that reads “Civic responsibility means active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good.” This definition relays strong terms such as community, commitment and common good, which are terms that I invite my reader to have in mind while I impart my story.
It was a day like any other day in the month of March. It was passed noon, the sun was still up and I was returning home from University following my regular route on foot. When arriving close to an intersection I noticed a taxi swirling past a middle aged man that was swaying disoriented in the middle of the road. Luckily, I thought to myself, neither the man nor the driver collided. The man, who I knew now was intoxicated beyond any doubt, managed to wobble 50 feet away from traffic and over to a parking space that was near the road.
At this moment I thought to myself: “Would it be ok if I called the police?” “What if he goes back into traffic or onto the cable car lines?” “He might injure someone”. At that very moment something happened that unclouded my decision making process in an instant: The man was trying to get into one of the parked cars under the bridge. Sometimes he was pulling desperately on the door handles and sometimes he was taking a break to search himself for what one would assume was a set of keys. Even if I partially knew that the car that he was looking at was not his own and, therefore, there was no danger of him getting behind the wheel drunk, I had to make the call. After all, he couldn’t have committed vehicular theft at his level of intoxication, but trying to pry open other people’s car is still illegal and with a set of keys in his hand (which he was still probing his jacket for) he could have unwillingly been the perpetrator of property damage.
For those of you who are not familiar with how the emergency call service works here in Romania I will convey my experience exactly. After about 20 seconds of ringing I was greeted by a bland voice and asked with what issue they can be of service. I conferred the happenings as I presented them here (of course also mentioning the location) and after a two minute monologue my interlocutor asked me to give my name so that my call could be transferred to the police. I gave my name, as I barely understood what the person was saying due to the traffic around me and the low volume. While all of this was happening, the intoxicated man gave up on trying to open the car that first caught his eye and was now intent on sabotaging a neighboring white van parked three feet away. No doubt he was aimlessly trying to settle his intoxicated fantasies that one of those cars must be his.
After a short period of holding the telephone call, a second voice greets me and assures me that I am now talking to the appropriate authorities, the Police. This one was more alert and didn’t have the displeasure of having a low volume. I sadly understood that I have to display the whole story again for this new party so I repeated every detail including also the new development of the intoxicated man’s second attempt at a prize. Again I gave my name at the end (this time the person was more inclined at writing it down somewhere) and I was assured that a police car would be dispatched at the scene and that I should remain there momentarily until their arrival. The call ended after lasting about 5 minutes.
And so I waited…
By Larisa Rusu
Powerful and controversial campaign sums up our society.