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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Confusion,Social Perception and Common Courtesy

Thanks to technology a few weeks back, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old acquaintance of mine now living in the United Kingdom. In the process of catching up with my old acquaintance, I brought to his attention a very recent mild conflict that I have been engulfed in for some time with another person. Upon elaborating the detailed nature of this mild conflict, an idea, an opinion was put forward by this gentlemen with regards to the practise of common courtesy in modern day urban Pakistan. The suggestion by my acquaintance was that the reason for the lack of common courtesy was due to confusion and a misperception with regards to what basic common courtesy is, and he rightly pointed out that people are unable to differentiate between basic common courtesy and being nice to others. In other words, what he was trying to say was that the practise of common courtesy is mistaken by many people regardless of their background as a good will gesture or an attempt at being nice to the other person. I agreed with his suggestion, that our society, particularly our youth has not reached the level of maturity to establish the notion of the practise of basic courtesy in their day to day behavior which is an inherent part of many cultures and societies.

I continued this discussion over the weeks that followed with several friends and acquaintances, some of whom far more experienced in the realities of adult life in Pakistan. They too reaffirmed what the English doctor had told me, the concept of common courtesy is alien to society here and people mistake basic courtesy as 'being nice' to the other person. Though I will not disagree with the notion, that many people refrain from 'being nice' in order to display that they have not let their guard down or to show case their social bargaining power, in the process they end up overlooking basic courtesy which from my point of view is the right of every human being on earth, even our foes are worthy of basic courtesy. This tempts one to Question, what determines our social behavior, what is is that determines whether whether one will practise common courtesy with others? Who will be a recepient of common courtesy and who will be overlooked. The determination of who recieves common courtesy also leads to our personal decision with regards to who to be-nice to, and who not to to be, if they are two seperate things.

Not being a stranger to human behavior, having studied human behavior from the context of organizations and the corporate world through out university and graduate school, I would like to propose a theory based on what I have learnt academically in the classroom. In organizational behavior we were introduced to a concept called 'peceived power differential' to explain work place socialization, as well as the role of power and politics at an organizational level. It is a very simple theory that states that how individuals in an organizational setting treat each other is determined by their relative perception of the other person. In other words, how they see the other person when they compare the person to themselves. Whether individual perception sees the person as on par with us, below us or above us in terms of power, influence and status at the organziational level. For example our immediate supervisor or boss would know that he or she has some power differential relative to us which he or she can exercise for their own advantage at some point. So if one experiences, slight mistreatment at the hands of our immediate bosses, its because they feel they are at a power advantage relative to us, and what encourages them is the knowledge that they can exercise that hierarchial difference to get away with it.

Using the theory of the perceived power differential as a base, I would like to propose a similar theory. Our behavior in social circumstances and our ability to practise common courtesy is dictated by our 'percieved social status differential', in other words how we percieve others relative to ourselves socially or in a social setting. It is pretty much the same thing as the perceived power differential, just re-worded. So the following hypothesis is what I would like to propose, to those reading this, I would like to request that they take out just a minute from their life to think about what I am about to propose.

Hypothesis 1: When we percieve the social status of another individual as higher relative to that of ours, we give the individual in Question preferential treatment which includes going out of our way to be nice, courteous and cooperative with or towards those people. Such behavior could be classified as an attempt by us to be perceived as equals by the person in Question.

Hypothesis 2: When we percieve the social status of another individual relatively equal to that of our own, we will practise common courtesy atleast to the very basic level. This would be maintain the status-quo that we have with the other person, and keep a sustainable relationship intact, whether it be amongst friends, peers or sheer acquaintances. Its percieved social equality that serves as a psychological ice breaker between individuals which leads to the creation and transformation of sustainable friendship or good management of communication with acquaintances.

Hypothesis 3: When we percieve the social status of another individual to be below or inferior relative to that of our own, we will even abstain or restrict ourselves from the practise of very basic common courtesy and our behavior might even go to the extent of going out of our way to be discourteous, impolite or even hostile with the person in Question. A possible reason for such behavior could be either self-assurance about our own identity and self worth, or sending out a signal to the other person that they are inferior and we are off a particular standing that we wish to maintain. In other words, we try to them they are at the back end of the stick and we are better than them. Usually the recepients of such behavior also become victims of our negative and anti social behaviour traits, because we see them as below us, we might even be tempted to blow some steam. Example of behavior when we perceive some one as below below us, includes lack of acknowledgment when we stumble across acquaintances in public, rude and impolite responses to basic communication or approaches from the other person, infact even resorting to slanderish gossip about others reflects that in our perception we see others as relatively inferior.

To my friends, colleagues and acquaintances, I would like to thank those who made the effort to read this, and I would like to request once again, to take a moment out of their lives to spare a few thoughts on what I have proposed. The reason for my emphasis on common courtesy, is because the absence or lack of common courtesy is what actually leads to breakdown in communication, misunderstandings and many avoidable conflicts.

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