Unwritten Social Agreements.


It is strange that this topic crops up now almost just after I had written my post on Reaction To Death where I was exposed to two differing reactions to my following one of our unwritten social agreements, conveying condolence when some one dies. There are other such agreements like obligatory attendance of weddings, contributions to local temples, annual celebration of festivals etc where despite one’s reluctance, one is expected to participate because of custom, tradition or just sheer fear of ostracisation or excommunication or whatever.

Most of these unwritten social agreements however are driven by peer /social pressure and in urban living conditions observed in the breach and in any case the spirit is rarely the driving factor. Let us just take two such farces in my part of the world. The Karva Chaut / Maha Shivratri observation among Hindus; and the Ramzan fast where all day long people fasting rest and sleep and party in the nights, or the Friday afternoon mandatory namaaz to which one is obliged to go among the Muslims beside various other things in both religions and the others, by listing which I may become more politically incorrect.

I live in a milieu where written agreements are broken with impunity and the proverbial hand shake ones have all but disappeared. When I see obviously educated people driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid a long drive to a turning on a one way road, what I wonder about is how these people who do not respect written laws and rules will behave in business and employment situations where unwritten agreements usually play a greater role than written ones. The increasing rate of divorces in our country is another indicator of the fall of the sanctity of agreements, written or otherwise.

I am a cynic where human nature is concerned having experienced many disappointments with broken agreements to be in favour of unwritten agreements. So, I will leave my readers with this fantastic thought from someone who would not be expected to come up with it.

“For practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbours.”
~ Evelyn Underhill.

I hope that you enjoy reading my take on this subject which was chosen by Conrad The Old Fossil for the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where five of us write on the same topic.  TOF himself is preoccupied with other major problems but I hope that since this is a topic chosen by him, he will endeavour to write this week’s LBC post.  The four other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, AshokgaelikaaMaxi, and Shackman. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too! Ashok has got a new blog set up and I hope that he will participate being a lawyer as he is, and dealing with agreements of all kinds all the time.

15 thoughts on “Unwritten Social Agreements.”

  1. I certainly don’t agree with all social conventions — for instance in rural India the honor killing of young people who dare fall in love and marry the “wrong” person.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Cutting a Cake

  2. The obvious snag with both written and unwritten agreements is that people have to actually stick to them, and for one reason or another people frequently don’t. I’m not sure that this is any more the case nowadays than it used to be. But if people are expected to follow unwritten agreements they’ve never signed up to, like religious customs, then it’s hardly surprising that people ignore them.
    nick recently posted..Dashed hopes

  3. Ah yes. The unwritten agreements that define friendship. I’m not so cynical as you seem to think you are. Every culture has its own variations and some might suggest the nature of political corectness is defined by a series of unwritten social agreements

  4. First and foremost, as you have rightly pointed out, I see little difference in either written or unwritten agreements when it comes to any measure of confidence that they will be carried out. But that statement is made totally within the context of my American culture. There are other cultures; oriental is the first to come to mind, where all the confidence in the world can be made with regard to most agreements, especially those made with a hand-shake since one’s honor is much more at risk under such agreements.

    I personally take exception to many unwritten social agreements or perhaps better defined from my viewpoint as “social expectations”. Using your death and condolences issue as an example, I recently had a very good friend pass away but I was unacquainted with anyone in his family, therefore I neither sent nor conveyed any condolences. The fact that I did or didn’t was of no consequence to me or his family members since they didn’t know me and as far as my friend, well… he was gone. 😕
    Alan G recently posted..The Adventures of Snake Boy….

    1. There are still situations where hand shakes can seal agreements but they are the exception rather than the rule primarily because of a rapidly changing environment that we have seen in the last couple of decades here in India. There is more cynicism than trust in all transactions.

      And, I am not surprised about the second paragraph. How does one even speak to someone from a family of a deceased when one just knew that one person?

    1. Could not agree more. There was a time that we used to trust our grocer to keep accounts and submit a bill at the beginning of each month for settlement. Neither he, because his employee turnover is high, nor I, because my memory can play tricks, can trust that arrangement any more and I have insisted that all transactions be on cash against delivery! This is not due to any fall in values but part of the present day environment that presents unknown problems.

  5. Ahhh…then we could go into all of the courage that it has taken for people to break both written and unwritten agreements to change the world in very positive ways. Perhaps it always comes down to whose ox is being gored, but I feel great resistance to some social agreements. However, if I have taken a role in an agreement…written or unwritten…I would feel very bad not to have lived up.
    Talk to Me…I’m Your Mother recently posted..Parable of the Mustard Seed – My Version

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