Logic takes a backseat to custom when it comes to social norms

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Social norms: Everyone knows them. Don’t chew with your mouth open. Cross your legs when wearing a skirt. Don’t scratch your naughty bits in public. But are these “rules” really necessary? If you’ve got an itch that can’t be ignored, is it not well within your right to scratch it?

What is it about the word “normal” that makes people think it’s definable? There is nothing normal about placing constraints on human nature. The term is so relative that it differs slightly for every single living thing. What’s normal to me (eating exorbitant amounts of Chinese food, grocery shopping at 2 a.m.) is by no means normal to the person living down the hall from me (HI!!!!!!).

Whenever you see a group of young kids out in public, at least one of them is picking their nose. Our parents ingrained in us the notion that this was a bad thing to do, probably because their parents did the same to them. And whenever you ask why, the response given is “It’s rude,” or my personal favorite, “Because.” It’s rude because people say it is, not because they actually believe it is. People are afraid of being ostracized, so they don’t go against the grain.

Follow me on this one: Irrational codes of decorum lead to an overall resentment of authority figures and a population-wide decrease in imagination. In the Disney movie The Lion King, Simba has an entire musical number dedicated to how much he detests being told what to do. In the end, Simba comes up with a clever plan to reclaim his place as king. In between all this, Simba was in a beautiful jungle paradise with no parents and no constraints. Most important, Simba had the ability to grow unfettered, both physically and mentally. Life turned out pretty well for Simba, and nobody died because he burped a lot.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that, yes, some standards are good. Watching someone talk with their mouth full of food is one of the grossest things about day-to-day life. Most people shower and wear clothing. Hopefully that’s because everyone realizes that the Garden of Eden is a little too idealistic to be imposed on today’s world. If humans were not sentient beings, clothing wouldn’t be an issue, but they are, so Modesty clothes us in whatever it can find. When a rule of propriety is based on logic or other rational thinking, I can agree with it, but there are just some expectations that can not even begin to be explained.

Burping, for instance, whether out loud or not, is widely considered to be rude. Whether at the dinner table at home or elsewhere, anywhere a burp is heard, a resounding “gross” is heard after it. The thing is, the person who says “gross” burps, too. This kind of double standard (read: hypocrisy) leads me to believe that there’s no actual reason for this ban on burping. In some cultures, burping is considered a compliment. If you appreciated the meal, show your thanks by sounding a resonant burp.

The same goes for passing gas, more colloquially known as farting. Women do it. Men do it. Hell, even animals do it. If people are going to get huffy and upset every time someone lets one slip, then they should be consistent about it. All other bodily functions should be equally detested: breathing, sneezing, yawning, going to the bathroom, bleeding. The list goes on. None of these things can be controlled, so society shouldn’t try to control them, especially by imposing an unspoken moratorium on them.

Even among close friends, social norms are still upheld, at least superficially. Someone burps and the group they are surrounded by erupts into laughter amid groans of “sick,” “nasty,” and “dude, gross.” They don’t really mean it though. It’s a trained reaction based on years of questionable parenting and even worse societal expectations. Your friends appreciate you for who you are, bodily processes included. That’s why they’re your friends, not parents or superiors.

Victims of this nonsense: Rejoice. You are not alone. I, too, have suffered countless “looks” just for being myself. I burp around my friends and yawn without covering my mouth. I’m fine with it. There is nothing nicer than acting the way you were meant to act. It makes me feel good when the people around me are comfortable enough with me and, most importantly, themselves, to burp, yawn, and snort in my presence.