Cultural norms are engraved in our daily life. What is the norm? According to Cambridge Dictionary, norm is defined as:
An accepted standard or a way of behaving or doing things that most people agree with.Cambridge Dictionary
Cultural norms are defined as:
Cultural norms are the standards we live by. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide behavior of people within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers and others while growing up in a society.https://www.globalcognition.org/cultural-norms/
For many years, I’m battling with these concepts of cultural norm. When I reflect back, my strongest cultural norms were reinforced from parents, relatives, and friends. My parents have strong opinion of the cultural norms that we, as next generation, should follow. For example:
– Being the eldest child, you should…
– Being a girl, you should…
– Having this ethnic background, you should…
– Being a woman, you should…
My parents were raised in a cultural norm to have a strong family bond. In some way, such cultural norm brings families together. In other, such cultural norm becomes a chain holding people back to their family. Whilst I had to learn how to unleash myself from such family bond, my parents labelled me as an obedient child who is selfish.
Let me illustrate a scenario. I had a very interesting conversation with my mum. I visited home unexpectedly for her for my own reason. Then, she started a conversation.
Mum: So how are you doing with your relationship?
Me: What relationship? which one?
Mum: I don’t know. Any?
Me: No. I am not in any intimate relationship.
Mum: Aren’t you worried that no one wants you?
Me: Not really. Why?
Mum: Aren’t you worried that no one likes you?
Me: Not really.
Mum: Why aren’t you worried?
Me: Well, I don’t need anyone to make me happy. I am already happy now.
Mum: But don’t you need…
Me: Well, look mum. You told me that if you can turn back time, you would choose to be single and not married. Why would you say my happiness is depend on whether I am in a relationship or not? Unfortunately, my happiness is not depending on that. My happiness is depending on other things.
Mum: oh… but don’t you want…
Me: Mum, I already told you that I will not have a baby if I’m over 40 years old. That’s my decision.
Mum: Yes. I remember that. But you still have…
Me: Yes. Few more years. I don’t think I will but it doesn’t mean I won’t.
Mum: Oh.. okay.
I understand that she was just worried. However, for me, this was a cultural norm that by certain age, girls should get married. Once you’re over that appropriate age to get married, you will be called “leftovers”. Some people will see that as my inability to attract man in life. Some people will say I am living in my fantasy. This is just part of everyday conversation with my mum. Her perspective is that “girls are raised to get married and to deliver next generation. That’s the only way girls can contribute to the honour of the family.” To cut this chain takes time because I am presenting a new perspective and possibility of life to my parents or culture as a whole.
Let me give you few more examples from when I was visiting my auntie. My auntie was born in a country and never lived abroad. She married in her local region and raised two sons in the same region. She accommodated me for a week and took me to everywhere she goes. One day, she had to stopped at a bike shop because for some reason. I had my breakfast on my hands, looking for a place to eat. It was a bike garage where they had parts and broken bikes everywhere. The shop owner, kindly offered me a seat in the garage so I ate my breakfast there. I overheard their conversation:
Auntie: She (me) is vising from oversea.
Owner: Oh really?
Auntie: Yes. Kids raised abroad is certainly different to our home grown ones.
Owner: What do you mean?
Auntie: Well, our home grown ones will never sit there (pointing to me) and eat in this environment. Certainly, raised abroad ones are easy going and not over sensitive about environment.
When I heard that I was like “well, if I have choice, I prefer not to but I am so hungry.” It was interesting listening to their perspectives about “home grown ones” and “raised abroad ones”.
In another time, she commented about the way I laugh.
She said “You know what? You really need to control your laughter. I was travelling in a group of people with Professor so and so. There was a girl who laughed like you and when he saw that he said ‘This girl will disgrace the family if she doesn’t control her laughter”. So, you have to control your laughter.”
When I heard this, I immediately thought its her cultural norm. When I returned to my current country of residence, many people commented about my laughter. They said that when I laugh, they can feel that I am laughing from my heart. I truly mean it. So for few months after this, I felt confused whether I need to be aware of my laughter or not. At the end, I have told myself “How silly it is not able to express your own feelings as you’re experiencing it. Yes, you have to be aware of the occasion and time, but you want to express my feelings, in particular positive ones, as you feel it. You don’t want to suppress your feelings any more”.
Reflecting on this matter, I think I can give more examples because I am still challenging myself to unleash from cultural norms. I believe as I develop further, more of competing norms may arise within myself, within family, and with the external culture. No matter how I choose to live my life, I will take full responsibility for my decision.
Can you think of any cultural norm that you lived with but that’s not serving you anymore?
Can you think of cultural norm that were passed down from previous generations that’s not true anymore?
If yes, how can you do it differently? What is your choice and decision?