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Empty cultural norms June 29, 2011

Posted by Ian in Morality.
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I’ve realised for a while now that the notion of being or giving insult is an utterly bizarre idea with nothing behind it except habit.  A natural extension of this is realising that a number of things we take for granted as being both necessary and good in society are equally empty, particularly including manners and apologising.  I also think there is an analogy between religion and these concepts.

The idea of saying please whenever you ask for something is a fairly pointless little ritual presumably designed to distinguish demands from requests.  However “pass the salt” and “please pass the salt” are functionally the same request – the please adds nothing.  This would be fine, except that people manage to get offended or irritated when people don’t say please during a request.  So actually all please seems to add to the process is an opportunity for irritation.  I say we ditch the word please from the lexicon – it won’t be missed.

Thank you (and the related “you’re welcome”) is a slightly different concept because gratitude is a meaningful concept.  However society has rendered the concept meaningless by enforcing a compulsory thank you for anything you are given.  Thank you as an automatic response needs to be dropped so the word can regain some value.

Apologies are a different beast again.  While often said as a formality, there is something else as well.  If someone actually is insulted, something I think is strange to start with, arguing this is obviated by that person saying sorry is several orders of magnitude weirder.  There is no magic property to this word, no capacity to undo perceived wrongs, nothing changes after it is said.  I think this is another word that wouldn’t be missed.

What is interesting is that if you said out of nowhere “I think please, thank you, and sorry should be ditched” people would laugh it off as a crazy idea but I think there is a self-justification behind these concepts.  They are drilled into us as children, almost more than any other concept, to the point where they seem beyond question.  In that sense they are not much different to the concept of god – they become such a natural part of day to day life that it becomes quite unnatural to question them.  I suspect things we don’t like questioning are precisely the things we should spend the most time questioning.

Thanks for reading, I apologise for the length, and if you enjoyed it, you’re welcome.  Please comment 🙂

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