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Immigration Detention: The People Along the Way

As you know this weekend was our much-anticipated immigration movie screening event, and trip to visit immigrant detainees at the Stewart Detention Center. Along with the hospitality house, El Refugio in Lumpkin, GA, which houses families coming to visit loved ones.

Through my endeavor to learn more about immigration, I can officially say from the other side that I was successful. Possibly more successful than I expected.

I learned that Stewart Detention Center is the largest detention center in the country, detaining about 1,800 immigrants at any given time. I’ve learned that it is one of MANY detention centers scattered across the U.S. that are for-profit, owned and run by corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America, which is the owner of Stewart. I’ve learned that the CCA makes $100 a day per detainee that resides in their facility, which offers great incentive to keep detainee numbers high, and that money is paid to them from our government straight out of your tax paying pockets.

Stewart Detention Center falls in the top 10 worst detention centers in the U.S. Detention centers have ongoing issues and complaints for inadequate medical care, sexual and physical abuse, insufficient food, and high costs for communication to those outside of the facility, making contact with family members hard. I’ve learned that breaking immigration law is considered a civil offense, and not a criminal one, so detainees are denied the right to government provided legal defense.

Detention centers are primarily built in impoverished areas, away from major cities to make it difficult for families to travel to visit their loved ones. In Lumpkin there are no hotels, or public transportation options, not even a regular grocery store.

I’ve learned that our immigration policies and our high rates of deportation have destroyed many families. Thousands. Nearly 45,000 immigrant parents were deported in the first half of 2012 alone, separating them from their U.S born children. It is estimated that at least 5,000 of those children (in 22 states) now reside in our foster care system, which doesn’t account for the number of children in foster care in states unaccounted for, or those that have been orphaned by these policies that now reside with other family members living in the U.S. Husbands separated from their wives, mothers from their children, and fathers from their children.

These are just a few factoids though. Stats. Just a few, since there are so many more I could be throwing out there. And while they are disturbing and sad, they don’t put a real face to what is really happening here.

So, more important than what I’ve learned here, is what I saw.

I saw how difficult it is to navigate the detention system without guidance, and you can wholeheartedly expect to get little to no help from those running or those employed by these bureaucracies. We can mince words all we want about how detention centers aren’t prisons, but only those that haven’t been there would ever make that assumption. Or those that have a monetary or philosophical interest in them. They are very much prisons.

Stewart Detention Center is completely surrounded by high fencing topped with barbed wire. Not only one fence, but two. You can’t walk into Stewart without being buzzed into their two-gate system. You enter the first gated door, and it closes you in before allowing you to enter through the second. Detainees are only allowed one visitor per week, and families sit for hours waiting for the opportunity to visit (I waited 2 ½ hours.) Each visit is one hour long, and only 5 visits can take place at one time. These visits allow no actual contact with the detainee and take place over phone, while being separated by glass. When you go through to visit they require that you remove your shoes, empty your pockets, remove you belt, and place all belongings in a bucket so that they can be scanned. After you walk through metal detectors you are allowed your shoes back, but must replace all belongings inside a locker for the duration of your visit.

However, it wasn’t the inner workings of Stewart that made the biggest impression on me. It was the people along the way.

It was the story I heard of one man’s personal experience in hiring a coyote to take him to the border to get here. About how his group was lied to about how long it would take, so they were inadequately prepared with food and water. About how merciless coyotes can be, and that they were not allowed to rest, even the children. He described the fear of stopping, because their guide would leave them behind with no way to find their way forward or back. He described the experience as a nightmare that still haunts him today, I could hear his pain, and I cried for them. All of them. In my lifetime I will surely never understand the fear or necessity that drives so many to make that trek, or the level of bravery that it takes to make that choice.

Most of us, those “lucky” American born folks never will.

It was the people who traveled from all over to visit their loved ones. Mothers. Fathers. Wives. Children. Sisters. Brothers. Friends. The woman I spoke with who was trying to visit her husband, but was turned away after 40 minutes of waiting because they realized that he had been visited earlier in the week, so was not allowed to see him. The woman that was almost denied visitation access due to her shirt baring too much skin. The woman I met that travels every Saturday from Buford to see her husband, who has been at Stewart for the past 8 months.

And it was the man that I had the privilege, along with my husband, to spend an hour talking with that I gained the most insight from. The man who has been fighting his case and residing in Stewart since Sept. 2011. The one whose mother died from cancer shortly after his visitation request was denied to go see her. The one whose wife suffers from a heart condition, who has been without insurance since his detention began, and can no longer afford the expensive medications she needs. I listened as he expressed his fear for her, as she has been in and out of the hospital. His fear that he may never see her again, and his fear that she will die before he ever has the chance. I listened as he told us the story of how they met, and fell in love. I watched him as he cried for his life being denied him, the loss of his mother, for his wife, and I cried with him. He is scared (like so many others), and he has every reason to be.

So, those are the faces. The people behind all the stats and facts and articles. And it makes me angry. And so so sad. And scared too.

Because as my new friend, Jose described to me – the American Dream has become a nightmare.

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Border Crossings Educational Event

Last semester during my Sociology course, the topic of immigration in the United States came up. In an attempt to learn more about the barriers immigrants face, I ended up having some great conversations on Facebook with my friends, and connecting with a friend that is very passionate about immigration reform, and volunteers much of her time to helping detained immigrants and their families.

In order to learn more about a topic that I have (in the past) been sorely lacking knowledge on, and with the help of said friend, I have been helping to organize an educational event that is taking place this Friday night!

So, my local readers… Join us for an educational event on January 25th @ 6 pm to view the film, A Better Life in Avondale Estates near Decatur. A Better Life tells a typical story of Latino immigrants that bring to light many struggles that Latinos/as face in the United States. We will follow the film with a discussion, which will be a great opportunity to learn more about immigration and detention issues, and start thinking about and discussing ways to take action and work towards social change.

You can find full details for the event at it’s Facebook Listing.

Wanna know why you should care about immigration in the U.S? Watch this short 2-minute video for a brief glimpse into our private immigrant detention industry.

This Saturday, along with my husband and a group of friends, I will be driving to Lumpkin, Georgia to visit El Refugio, a hospitality house, right outside the gates of Stewart Detention Center. Its purpose is to serve the family and friends of men detained and, thus, separated from their loved ones. Stewart Detention Center is the largest immigrant detention center in the country. During our trip we will visit with detainees at Stewart Detention Center. You can look forward to reading about my experience after I get back. 🙂

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2013!!! Here’s to getting it right!

I’m running a little behind on getting this post out. As usual, although I intended to be a blog writing machine during my break from school that hasn’t really panned out in reality. Oh, well.

2012 was a really good year for us. SO I really want more of that.

I wrote these goals out over the summer in preparation for the new school year, but since I haven’t really given them much thought since then it seems like a good time to actively start trying to actually focus on them.

My focus going into 2013:

  • Keep letting go. This year my anxiety levels have been pretty minimal. I don’t want to back track. I just have to remember to not get so caught up in the day to day crap, notice how I am feeling about life and do what I need to stay happy. Let go of other people’s expectations for me, but probably more importantly the expectations I place on myself.
  • Fight less. I really want to minimize the amount of time we (my family) spend being snappy with each other or having full out brawls, so I’m trying to pay attention to our triggers for negative behavior.
  • Remember, I don’t have to do everything! Less is sometimes more. And sometimes less is all I have energy for so it will just have to do.

These are more centrally focused on our homeschool:

  • Be more open to on-the-fly learning. I have to be less focused on trying to plan everything out, and being MORE available to the needs of always curious children.
  • Support more independent, student-led projects and learning, which is why I’ve completely cut Fridays out of our regularly scheduled school so that they have a free day where I can stop focusing on the stuff I feel like they need to be learning and can ask, “What would YOU like to learn about today? What do you want to explore?”
  • Foster entire family participation in activities. I would really like to find ways to get Michael more comfortably involved in our homeschool.

Today, we had one of those rather perfect homeschooling moments. While we were cooking dinner, my kids were in the back yard doing this…

Later, I told Haden that what they did on the seesaw was Math, and he just looked at me all confused-like. 😛

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Year 2012: A Round-up on the Blog

Another year has gone by, and while I didn’t blog nearly as much as I hoped, I still managed to write a WHOPPING 93 posts in 2012. Yeah, I was surprised by that number too. I thought it would be fun to look at some of the highlights from the year.

My NUMBER 1 most visited blog from this year was…..!!!!

Stand Strong and Loud: My contribution to Blog for International Women’s Day that was hosted by Gender Across Borders and CARE. This year’s theme was “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.”

Following behind (in order) were…

Our Next School Year: The Plan: My post on this years curriculum plan, which I should probably just write a complete update post on considering we have completely ditched Time4Learning, and are now using How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, ClickNKids, living math ideas, and Pintrest to replace it. Oh, and we ditched our Road Trip USA curriculum too. I have really been reevaluating our approach to school recently, especially since we’ve been on our Winter break. This one was originally posted on a Homeschool Blog Hop.

Rethinking Education: A persuasive essay on homeschooling, outlining benefits and considerations.

Our Homeschool Space: The title is pretty self-explanatory. 😛 Another one that I did on the above mentioned Homeschool Blog Hop, which is what contributed to its popularity.

This is me… throwing down: My response post to the whole Chickfila controversy BULLSHIT over the summer. It is probably my favorite post from the past year.

Now, I figured that I would add in a couple of honorable mentions, because even though they might not have made the top five traffic-wise on my blog, they were in MY favorites when I wrote them. And really that is more freakin’ important.

Warning Snark Ahead – with a fair amount of cussing: From just last month – 5 things that I learned after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Homeschooling: An Interview with My Kids: It was just so darn cute.

Tit Terrorists?: My thoughts on how we (lactavists) talk about breastfeeding and approach our activism.

 

Get to reading the ones you missed! 😉

 

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Our 2012 Family Slideshow

For those that missed it on Facebook right before Christmas… our 2012 family photo album/slideshow! I love how this years turned out, and it is always nice to look back over your year to remember all the really great things about it. I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! Enjoy!

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Dangerous Minds – A Film Analysis

 (This is my final essay assignment for my Sociology class. I’m officially on break until mid-January! I got a 90, BTW.)

The film, Dangerous Minds, follows the story of Louanne Johnson, an ex-U.S. Marine. Set in 1989, the story begins with Louanne entering into her first year teaching at an inner-city school with underprivileged youths, where she explores the challenges of teaching her students, and the necessary steps it takes to reach them. Roughly based on the autobiography, My Posse Don’t Do Homework, Dangerous Minds shows a social depiction of the forces of stratification and poverty, the bureaucracy of our educational system, and the subcultures that exist within that framework (Johnson, 2007).

The opening of the film shows you glimpses of poverty-stricken neighborhoods with run down buildings, busted windows, and graffiti. Neighborhoods where homelessness and drug deals are a commonality. In the background of these images is the song Gangsta’s Paradise, by Coolio, which is used as a reflection into their lives and culture:

“You better watch how you’re talking and where you’re walking, or you and you homies might be lined in chalk… I’m the kind of G the little homies wanna be like, on my knees in the night saying prayers in the streetlight (Coolio, 1995).”

This further builds on the imagery of a reality within this subculture where gang violence is prevalent, life chances are lacking, and reputations that invoke fear are a necessary part of surviving.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Louanne’s students are primarily minorities from working poor families, with no apparent interest in education, little to any educational skills and social problems. Seemingly fixated in their social position, these kids seem to lack confidence in their ability to be more than they are by virtue of their birth and circumstances.

In an effort to control some aspect of their lives, placing value in fearful reputations and violence become a way of carving out a place for themselves within society, and seem to be synonymous with power and prestige. Upon Louann’s first day of class, she is greeted with derogatory sneers, such as “white-bread” and “puta,” which translated to English would be equivalent to whore or slut (Smith, 1995). In their effort to intimidate her into leaving, and therefore maintaining their freedom, they effectively make Louanne more determined to reach them.

In order to obtain the attention of her students, and teach them in a way that they can understand and identify, Louanne begins to think outside of the box. However, the bureaucracy of the school system becomes a problematic hurdle with its rigid rules, and administrations unwillingness to try something new, even despite the fact that the existing curriculum and approach isn’t working for the “special & challenging” kids (Smith, 1995). The impersonality of their organizational structure leaves you feeling that the school has little real interest in whether these kids actually learn anything, but sees Louanne as more of a babysitter to get them through the day and out the door. Despite the bureaucratic resistance Louanne takes her chances, challenges the system and begins breaking school rules.

Attempting to form a connection with her students and build rapport, she asks the class to teach her some karate. After two students try to show her some karate moves she proclaims, “You guys don’t know shit! (Smith, 1995)” Louanne starts the class with a clean slate, giving everyone an A, while telling them all they have to do is try in order to keep it, which is a persuasive message to a group of kids that have never experienced having an A before.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Appealing to the background of her students she breaks the school’s standardized curriculum. In teaching the kids about verbs Louanne writes, “I want to die,” and “ I choose to die.” She bribes them with candy, prizes and field trips to motivate them to do their work (Smith, 1995). She has them analyze poems about death and drugs. However, one of the more important factors is the interest she takes in her students as individuals, encouraging their abilities, and building a foundation of honest communication and respect, all of which are in direct conflict with the bureaucratic ideals of impersonality.

Throughout the film, you get this sense of jadedness coming from her students through their actions and how they verbalize themselves with comments such as, “ Come and live in my neighborhood for one week & you tell me if I still have a choice” (Smith, 1995). Yet, Louanne counters this mentality by telling them that everyone makes choices. “Those that choose to show up for school make the choice not to ‘lay down to die’. There are no victims in this classroom” (Smith, 1995).  These are powerful words that seem to strike a cord with her students, but throughout the film you still see the influence of societal structures negatively impacting the student’s life chances, regardless of the fact that they make the choice to come to school.

The role that familial influence plays on social mobility can be seen in the film when two brothers in Louanne’s class stop showing up for school. When Louanne goes to speak with the boys she ends up having a confrontation with their grandmother:

“You’re that white-breed bitch messin’ with my baby’s minds. My boys don’t go to your school anymore and that’s going to be it. I saw what they were bringing home – poetry and shit. A waste of time – they have more important things to worry about. I ain’t raising no doctors and lawyers (Smith, 1995).”

Another example of negative societal influence is shown through institutional discrimination when school administrators push a very bright student out of school due to her pregnancy, so that she can attend a “parenting school” to learn about baby care. This discrimination is performed with the justification of being best for all students with the assertion that “pregnancy is contagious,” but this effectively creates an environment that lowers their chances of graduating from high school (Smith, 1995).

Perhaps, the film Dangerous Minds puts too much emphasis on the character of Louanne as a savior for the children, and sensationalizes the idea of “gang life.” However, it nevertheless manages to draw attention to important social factors that can influence the lives of children growing up in poverty, and how these factors can effect who we become. I see the film as an avenue to begin breeching mainstream views that cloud the issue of poverty in the United States, to start opening up paths for discussion, and consideration for the steps that might lead to social change.

 

References

Coolio (1995). Gangsta’s Paradise [CD] New York, NY: Tommy Boy Records

Johnson , L. (2007, June). My thoughts on the movie dangerous minds.

Smith, J. N. (Director) (1995). Dangerous minds [DVD].

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Warning: Snark Ahead – with a fair amount of cussing

After spending most of my weekend reading articles, researching, and watching social media posts and comments about Friday’s shooting, I’ve come away with new wisdom that I feel the need to share. In no particular order of importance…

1. When trying to learn more about the ACTUAL effectiveness of gun control laws, avoid sources that have a liberal or conservative slant – and those are hard to find BTW. You will likely encounter some potentially compelling insights mixed in with some half-truths and outright lies. I’ve spent HOURS trying to wade my way through the easiest to find crap out there, and I honestly don’t much feel like getting into what I learned from those endeavors statistically speaking, but I will say that it isn’t nearly as clear cut as most people seem to think, which brings me to #2…

2. Apparently, a good majority of Americans already have this whole thing figured out. They know exactly what we need to do to reduce violent crimes. They know why Adam Lanza committed the act that he did. He was either mentally ill, not mentally ill, or just a “fucking crazy ass pyscho” who is currently burning in hell. (This is considered NOT mentally ill too, just so you know. Apparently, we seem to have some interesting ideals of what does and does not qualify as mentally ill.) Everyone seems to KNOW that it was his mothers fault (if he was mentally ill) for having guns in the house to begin with (under the assumption that she knew he was mentally ill. I mean, IF he was.) Or that it was his fault for not seeking help for his deranged mind. Or lets take it BACK to his mother. It is still her fault for raising such a fucked up kid, regardless if he was or was not mentally ill. Maybe he was just one of those “bad seeds,” whatever the fuck that means – which is still his mothers fault.

I feel a bit behind the curve here because my mind has been spinning all weekend as I have tried to make sense of the multitudes of opinions being splashed around the internet, and even after a whole weekend of being buried in reading and research, I don’t feel like I have ANYTHING figured out.

3. People seem to react on emotion, and jump to conclusions based on their predisposed biases. This seems problematic, because problems such as the ones we are facing in America are NEVER one-dimensional.

4. Apparently, “things like this” happen because we have removed God from our schools (according to Mike Huckabee and other asshats like him), but more importantly because we as a culture are losing god. We are becoming godless, and without God to drive our morals and invoke fear into our being, us godless folk are just going to keep destroying people with our violent behaviors (more presumptions, since we have ZERO idea what Adam Lanza’s religious beliefs were). You know – because religious folk have NEVER been known for violent behaviors. Nope. Not at all.

Personally, I am thankful this was pointed out to me, so that in my future endeavors I can try to be conscious  of the negative effects of my godlessness, so as not to let my violent nature get too out of hand.

5. This may be by far the most important thing that I have learned… That as much as the idea of people that commit violent crimes (like Adam Lanza) scare me, I’m almost just as afraid of some of the people that think of themselves as being “better” than Adam Lanza.

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*THIS* Close

I am *THIS* close to being done with school for this year, and that means I have a lovely 4-week break ahead of me to try my best to enjoy the holiday, and somewhat recuperate before being thrown into my next class.

You know what that means don’t you??!!!

You should be seeing more of me here on the blog in the very near future. Hopefully I’m not lying to you. I do miss it. I really do. And you know you miss all my updates or rants, whichever you get lucky enough to receive. 😛

In other news, I am officially in Christmas-time hell over at my house with the impending stress of the holiday, the lack of preparations I have made, and trying to wrap up this class, while still trying to seem all “awesome mom” through it all anyways.

Photo evidence…

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Drugs, Prostitution & Decriminalization

So, this week my Sociology Professor asked us, “Should victimless crimes such as prostitution and recreational drug use be decriminalized?”

My answer?

Yes.

Well, what I really said was this….

When decriminalizing recreational drug use and prostitution would essentially save the United States large sums of tax revenue and resources, boost our economy, and provide for a safer worker/consumer environment for the millions that participate in these activities – a better question might be, “Why SHOULD we keep them criminalized?” These policies are not accomplishing the goals of making society safer or preventing involvement.

The United States is known for its strict drug policies, and its imposition of the harshest penalties for drugs sales and possession across the world (Szalavitz, 2009). Historically, prohibition has done little more than create dangerous and violent markets, without seeing a decrease in consumption (“Should we legalize,” 2012).  America’s “War on Drugs” is failing, with a 2.5 trillion dollar price tag and little to show for it (“Should we legalize,” 2012).

As a case study, Portugal is a great example of how decriminalization of drug use can be beneficial to a society. In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to eliminate all criminal charges for personal possession of drugs, which was done with the goals of reducing deaths and infections by focusing on prevention and treatment instead of jailing (Vastag, 2009). Since their decriminalization, the number of street drug overdoses and new HIV cases among drug users has declined, with the number of people getting treatment for drug use rising, while the number of drug users is notably lower than those in the U.S. (Vastag, 2009).

Prostitution is one of the oldest jobs in the world, and instead of the profession declining, it is growing. Prostitution in the United States is estimated to bring in 14 billion dollars a year, with over 1 million people working as prostitutes (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011). Anti-prostitution laws do nothing to deter the frequency of prostitution, but do aid in pushing it underground, which makes it unsafe for all participants and for our society as a whole.

Most prostitutes are at the whim of those that pimp them out, and are regularly violated, abused and raped with no way for recourse of being helped for crimes committed against them. Some of this can be contributed to the non-reporting of crimes for fear of arrest for solicitation, but also for the abuse that prostitutes experience directly from law enforcement by way of assault and rape. Also, anti-prostitution laws and the enforcement of them are unequal in their attention and target prostitutes, not their clientele, which account for only 10% of all arrests (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011).

Laws against prostitution are unjustified and hypocritical. In no other way does government interfere in our sex lives and determine when, how or why we are allowed to have sex. Pornography is legal. Government isn’t out policing the number of men or women that marry (and have sex) with people of high financial backgrounds purely for financial gain.  Or people that are promiscuous is their behaviors, having sex with relative strangers after being bought dinner or drinks on  dates. If sex for money is what defines prostitution, should we be investigating all circumstances involved in citizen’s sexual activities to rule out the possibility of compensation in any form?

Prostitution and drug laws cost us money. A great deal of it. The U.S accounts for 25% of the world’s prisoners, but our high imprisonment rates have done little to cut down on the frequency of these “crimes.” (“Should we legalize,” 2012). Enforcement of these laws drains our police resources, clogs up our court system, and wastes our time, which could be better allotted to real crimes. Crimes that actually aren’t victimless, like those committed against people and property.

At the end of the day, the main motivators behind these laws are religious, rooted in societies definition of morality, and are used to unfairly target minorities and other social groups. None of which have any place in the making of government policy.

References

Gorbenko, M., & Lakomy, A. (2011, November 12). Prostitution: The ‘world’s oldest’ and most dangerous profession.

Should we legalize drugs? [Radio series episode]. (2012). In NPR.

Szalavitz, M. (2009, April 26). Drugs in Portugal: Did decriminalization work?. TIME Magazine,

Vastag, B. (2009, April 7). 5 years after: Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy shows positive results. Scientific American,

 

Funnily, this assignment was only supposed to be a discussion post for my class and not a full essay, but once I started writing about the topic, I realized I had a good deal I wanted to say, and I still only managed to cover a small portion of it. Maybe one day I’ll  have the time and opportunity to do a much deeper study to build more thorough cases for both.

Also, I haven’t answered to whether or not I support legalization and regulation for both.

1 – becasue that wasn’t my assignment

and

2 – because I’m not entirely sure to what extent I feel it would be good to regulate either, if at all. I’ll have to think and research on it more.

 

Here are some resources worth checking out:

NPR Debate: Should We Legalize Drugs? – A panel of experts — including former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson — tackled that question in the latest installment of Intelligence Squared U.S. They faced off two against two in an Oxford-style debate on the motion: “Legalize Drugs.”

Washington Post: Should the U.S. Legalize Hard Drugs? – Some really compelling points that I didn’t even touch on in my post.

Prostitution: The ‘World’s Oldest’ and Most Dangerous Profession – Filled with a great deal of stats on prostitution.

Prostitution Law Reform: Defining Terms – Understanding the difference between decriminalization and legalization.

 

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Being Bad: Breaking Social Norms

Last week in Sociology, I had to perform a social experiment by breaking a social norm, and then write about my experience. This is what I ended up with… Enjoy!

Social norms are rules that govern behaviors within society by establishing standards of conduct (Kendall, p. 72). Sociologist Talcott Parsons theorized that social norms are necessary in society to help dictate our interactions with people (2011). Through these day-to-day interactions we learn what behavior is expected of us – how to dress for specific occasions, proper hygiene, manners, language that is appropriate in conversation, etc. These rules help us differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in any given situation.

My plan for the experiment was to meet two of my girlfriends at our local mall, have a drink and some dinner, and formulate a plan on how to break a social norm. I decided to bring along my friends for support, and to hold me accountable, so that I didn’t back out of the experiment. I struggled with the idea of performing the experiment, which had less to do with actually breaking a social norm, and more to do with having to acknowledge the reactions of people around me.

On the night of my experiment my anxiety levels were exceptionally high. I felt nauseous, tightness in my throat, heated, and my heart raced. As we ate, we discussed possible scenarios. I considered some of the class suggestions, along with staring, breaking into dance and using a phone app called iFart to fake a bodily function, among the more ridiculous.

In theory, all these ideas sounding very interesting; I wanted to be that person who could perform the experiment from a completely scientific place and be unfazed by the implications of it, but the reality of performing the experiment by breaking even a mild social norm seemed overwhelming. I reached a point in my evening where I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Why was this so hard for me?

It actually isn’t that uncommon for me to break social norms. Quite regularly I talk very loudly in public, especially when I am excited, and sometimes about topics that could be deemed socially inappropriate. Other times I have been known for nursing my toddler in public, yet even the idea of doing those things with the conscious purpose of getting a reaction seemed an impossibility.

It became clear that there is a stark difference between breaking a social norm because it comes naturally to you, or because it ties into something that is central to your belief system, and breaking a social norm purely for understanding how people will react. Typically, when I break a social norm I studiously ignore the reactions of the people around me.

Most would like to believe that they care little about what others think about them, but we are driven by how people perceive us, and the impressions that we leave. It is culturally deep-seated, this need to care and leave positive marks on the people we interact with, so to knowingly go against the grain and do something that will be perceived as odd or unacceptable with serious forethought feels wrong. At the root of my trepidation, there seemed to be a bigger fear of confrontation, which makes me wonder why I don’t fear that confrontation more in my everyday activities.

On the way out of the mall, as a last ditch effort, I decided to break a very mild social norm by riding the escalator down backwards, while my friends helped with cataloging the reactions of the people coming up the other side, as I watched people behind me. The most interesting thing happened, which was that nothing interesting happened at all. No one acknowledged me. All the people that passed by or were within the vicinity took absolutely no notice of me.

The result of the experiment left me considering how I generally go about my daily activities, especially in a public place. I go about my business, rarely looking at the people that are around me unless it is socially necessary, such a waitress taking my order or saying, “Excuse me,” when I get in someone’s way. Even in the moments of necessary interaction, I rarely make eye contact, and when I do it is limited. At any given time someone could be exhibiting strange, socially abnormal behavior and I would never notice it unless they were screaming, “Hey, look at me! I’m doing something socially strange over here!” So, this leaves me wondering if being inattentive to your surroundings in public is within itself a social norm, or just a socially awkward behavior that some people exhibit?

It occurs to me that people’s reactions to breaking social norms could vary greatly depending on the personality of the person/people you are interacting with, the size of your audience, and the quality of the norm you are breaking. It is my conclusion that it has almost become a social norm to break mild social norms, and that in combination with the patterns of behavior we exhibit in public places and our lack of observation to our surroundings unless necessary, it is likely that you can safely break mild social norms without anyone much caring or noticing.

References

Kendall, D. (2011). Sociology in our times. (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

(2011). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_(social)