Social protocol

People talk a lot about ‘social protocol’ and about the importance of adhering to it, of not breaking the rules of it. There is an attitude of wrong-doing associated with breaking social taboos, as if the perpetrator was out of order… and they damn well know it!

Is there a default cultural framework of social protocol for the different relationships we find ourselves in: parent-child, sibling-sibling, friend-friend, partner-partner, from which all variations are deviant? And, if so, is there a consensus about what that default is (or should be)?

Thinking about it, and looking around, I can see that there is a huge variety of relationship behaviour. I wonder how many people believe that what is normal for them is a representation of a default normality for the whole of society and that other ways of relating are aberrations? Or whether they compare themselves with others and consider themselves to be lacking in the ‘good behaviour’ stakes. It might depend to the extent to which they are happy in their relationship(s).

It doesn’t seem as if there is a consensus. Does that mean that ideas of social protocol are unique within individual minds, and that all there is on the matter is an illusion of consensus?

I also wonder whether, instead of developing habits to fit ideas of social protocol, we develop habits of relating first and then match ideas of protocol to that set of habituated behaviour.

So, what do people mean when they say ‘we must stick to the rules’? What rules? Whose rules? Is there an assumption being made about the nature of the rules?

What happens when we find ourselves in a situation where our normal habits of social interaction don’t fit the circumstances? What happens when we’re not getting along with someone we want to get along with because our ideas of social protocol create a hurdle, whereby guilt stops us in our tracks? Are we wrong, wicked, audacious, for wanting happy interaction with a ‘taboo’ person (for example, emotionally intimate friendships between men and women when one or both have a partner, who – in some people’s opinion – are unavailable for, and – more importantly – disinterested in, anything more than perfunctory interaction with members of the opposite sex, for reasons of necessity only (speaking from a heterosexual viewpoint))? Should we kowtow to what’s ‘right’, resist the temptation of wickedness and suffer our just punishment of guilt and shame? Would such self-sacrifice be proof of our goodness, our rightness, our loyalty to morality, proof of our worthiness of… what?… respectability, the admiration of others, perhaps? Would we be rewarded for nailing ourselves to the cross of a sacred ideology that is, essentially, a figment of our imagination?

Or would it be prudent to consider that our ideas of social protocol might be faulty?

If we encounter a relationship that doesn’t fit our existing ideas about relationships, then instead of fretting and punishing ourselves, why not develop new ideas? Why not design a new model for that relationship? Why not rewrite the (fictitious) rules?

I have this to say to ideas about social protocol that limit happy interaction: ‘You’re out of order.’


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