I’m in my mid thirties and I like to go clubbing. Once a year I like to go clubbing in Ibiza because it’s one of the few places where music, people, weather and a liberal attitude combine in perfect harmony.
It makes me happy and harms no one, so why do some people say to me “Why are you doing that? You’re too old. You’re just trying to relive your youth”?
Their comment is a result of something ingrained and unquestioned in their perception of the behaviour of others.
I never feel the need to justify my actions to them, but if I did it would go something like this:
My teens were wracked with acne, a general lack of understanding of the world and a belief that most people in bars and clubs were probably out to get me.
My 20’s continued on similar lines but with less acne so things were on the up.
In my 30s I have started to understand the world a little more and I’ve developed some genuine self confidence. It is only now that I can really appreciate the joy of standing in a room with several thousand people listening to tech-house without a care in the world.
So no, I’m not reliving my youth, I’m doing something much better in the here and now. I’m not hurting anyone and I’m enjoying my life in a completely rational way for me. So why should this be questioned? It comes down to social norms.
Social norms are one way that a population controls itself. Their origins and enforcement are complex but they are a well studied and important part of a functioning society and are far more powerful than people realise. They can be used or misused as a tool for persuasion (see Robert Cialdinis’s Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion – Principle Of Social Proof) or sometimes they are remnants from a different time that have become ingrained as unquestioned truth but don’t reflect current progressive attitudes or morals. When you step outside them people can react negatively – “Why can you have fun when I can’t, that isn’t the norm?” Fear of a negative response can deny freedom of choice for the individual, often, as is well demonstrated in the research linked to above, without the individual being aware.
Stepping outside of social norms shouldn’t only be the domain of rebellious teenagers. My overaged clubbing is a fairly insignificant example but it does demonstrate the issue. We should question social norms and disobey them (within moral and legal constraints of course) where we think they are wrong and are inhibiting our happiness, growth and success. Have a look at the back stories of the most successful people in the world today and they have almost all gone against social norms on their route to the top and continue to do so now. When you feel that you want to do something but you are scared of what others might think, question the attitudes of others as well as your own actions.
Maybe I sound a little like a teenager writing this. That’s okay by me; i think that the rebelliousness of a teenager in the body of a 30-something can be a powerful thing.