There's No Single List Of Social Rules And Norms
People who struggle socially sometimes ask if there's a big list of interpersonal rules and norms they can refer to, perhaps with explanations for why they are the way they are. I've noticed individuals with Asperger's Syndrome are especially likely to wonder about this, since they have a harder time picking up unwritten social rules through intuition.
Unfortunately there isn't one handy list of social rules out there. There are books and articles that cover some of the more clear cut or basic ones, but it would be totally impractical to record everything, especially at a very specific, fine-grained level that spelled out exactly what to do under every circumstance.
Why compiling a master list of social norms is unrealistic
There are just too many different social situations, and rules that can exist within them, to put everything down in one resource
It's the kind of task that may seem possible when you first think about it, but if you actually sat down and tried to catalog everything it would quickly get out of hand.
Rules vary depending on a number of factors
Most social rules aren't universally applicable. Different ones are needed based on the context. You need to know when to adjust or disregard them depending on the people you're interacting with (e.g., you're not going to use formal manners and etiquette at a frat party). They vary according on variables such as:
- Region of the country
- Social class
- Social status
- The personalities, beliefs, and social styles of the people you're interacting with
- Your own personality, beliefs, and social style
- The dynamics between you and the people you're interacting with (are you a stranger to them, their best friend, their boss, etc?)
Say you're going to a party. Learning some general party Do's & Don't's may help, but most of the nuances you'll have to navigate will be quite different depending on whether the party looks like this:
- Is in the United States
- In Chicago
- Is mainly attended by a liberal, young professional crowd
- There's about an equal mix of both genders
- The majority of the guests grew up in the states, but have Korean backgrounds
- The atmosphere is rowdy and there's lots of drinking
- Many of the people there have outgoing, attention-seeking personalities
- You know most of them from high school, but weren't super close with them at the time, haven't seen them in close to ten years, and your career isn't as successful as most of theirs
- The party's in Germany
- In a rural area
- Among middle-aged police officers
- The guests are mostly men
- The guests mostly have reserved personalities
- The party was held so everyone could watch a soccer match
- The guests are your co-workers, at a job you started a few weeks ago, and you were hoping to use this get together as an opportunity to get to know them better
There's no way you'd be able to fully look up what's expected of you in either of those situations ahead of time.
Social rules are always evolving
If one existed, any master list of social rules would need to be updated constantly. There are things that were considered inappropriate fifteen years ago that are much more acceptable today, and vice versa. And of course rules evolve along separate paths in different subcultures, parts of the country, and so on.
New social rules are always being created
Think of all the social guidelines that have appeared regarding cell phones and social media in the last decade. Some of them we've more or less agreed on while others are still up in the air. New social norms impact the old ones as well. For example, now that everyone has cell phones it's changed the dynamics of how people arrange and show up for get togethers.
If social norms confuse you there's no way to read them off one convenient list. You'll need to figure them out the hard way. This article goes into how to do that: