Friday, June 11, 2010

The Social Norms Experiment

The Social Norms Project
(Suggest you watch the videos first)

I broke a social norm by dancing and singing to myself as I listened to a rap song on my iPod on a crowded sidewalk in downtown Columbus. I didn't know all the words to the song, so I'm sure my singing must have been amusing. I was walking as the music played flinging my arms in the air and stopping on occasion to do an odd little jig that I'm pretty sure I've never seen before (or want to see again). I asked a friend to go with me. He politely declined to engage in the dancing or singing, but I was really glad he was there. Having an aly made me feel a little less crazy. I also asked a friend to come because I wanted someone to take video so I could upload it to my YouTube channel. I thought that having a camera on me would be a positive motivator for me not to chicken out! Normally I'm very confident being on camera. I really don't mind acting a little silly in public, but this was different. I had an idea in my mind that was so grand - but didn't really materialize the way I had envisioned. I believe my failure to go absolutely crazy when I was surrounded by a large group of people waiting for a bus on High Street was that my ego just couldn't overcome the fear of something going wrong. It was so much more difficult to push through that anxiety than I thought it would be.

My reaction during the time I was singing, dancing and doing cartwheels was pretty simple: I felt like a complete idiot! I noticed some people smiling. Several people leaned over to tell the person next to them to look at me. I also observed several people pointing. I think people knew I wasn't crazy, but I think some must have thought I was on drugs. I wanted to be viewed as funny (not mentally challenged). I was so insecure about not coming off as 'funny' or 'entertaining' that I was paralyzed with fear at the moments when there were the most people around. I was really surprised that it was so difficult to push past that fear. I wore a hat pulled low on my head and sunglasses that completely obscured my eyes. I doubt anyone when saw me would recognize me today without that hat and sunglasses. I knew I would never see these people again. My friend reminded me of this fact over and over again, but it didn't matter. I regained my composure at moments when there were the most people around (this went on for several blocks). My emotions were like a roller coaster! First, I would blast the music (an upbeat song that I love). I felt the adrenaline rush! Maybe this was going to be awesome! Maybe some old lady would come up and dance with me! Maybe my friend would catch the whole thing on video and this would be the next viral video on YouTube! Then reality began to sink in as I approached the groups of people. I began to feel the fear slowly rising... knowing what I was about to do... I became hyper aware of every minute detail of my appearance. I was thinking: "Is my zipper down? Is my shirt tucked in all the way? Is my hat on too crooked? Should I have worn different sunglasses with this hat? What if I slip? I shouldn't have worn flip flops!" I think I was too focused on everyone around me and not on the task at hand. I began to become hyper aware of not just the crowd of people that surrounded me but the individuals that made up that crowd. I saw an attractive woman dressed well talking very pleasantly on her blackberry ("What would she think if she sees me dancing and singing to myself?"), then a man in a power suit holding a briefcase with the direction of his gaze obscured by his sun glasses (What's that guy going to think... wait. Maybe he's looking at me already!). Then a row of very 'ghetto looking black men' that had a look like: "If you get near me I'll PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE!" I don't want my to get punched in the face! What if I accidentally say the "N" word out loud (as the song I was listening to does)! I don't want to incite a racial riot! Now, I doubt that would have happened but my preconceived prejudice of 'ghetto looking black men' were at play here whether I wanted to admit it or not. And I'm now concerned about my friend's safety too! Hey (I think). This is just a psych project! After a few dry runs and subsequent 'failed attempts' I tried to talk my friend into doing it for me... just to break the ice. If you do it then I'll totally do it I swear! "Hell no!" he answered. "This is your grade not mine!" He was right (even thought I wish he would have done it!). I completed the task, but not with the grandeur that I had hoped.

In conclusion I'm both relieved and disappointed that this project is over. I can't help but be inherently disappointed in my inability to push through my psychological fears and insecurities to the extent that I had imagined. I either need to accept my delusional tendency to "think to big" or accept my inability to deliver. Either way I won't soon forget this exercise and still feel a need to continue thinking about how I engage social norms and get. Or perhaps I'm just at an introspective phase of and I'm way over thinking this whole thing. One thing I would like to remember is that breaking a social norm forced me (and others) to live in the moment and embrace myself (fears and all).

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