Even the most uninhibited of us enjoy the benefits and losses of social contracts. A social contract is a non-verbal agreement shared world-wide, that allows us to temper our thoughts and not cause unnecessary havoc – like for example telling a friend you love their band when you really don’t.
Social contracts keep people from saying things they really shouldn’t say, even if they think them, things like, “you’re dumb, ugly, mean, crass, fat, bald, lazy,” etc. We don’t tell new mom’s that their brand new babies look exactly like their fathers who weren’t that attractive to begin with - instead we exclaim how cute the baby is. I can’t imagine the world without these social niceties.
Most people have some variance in their inhibitions. Some are more reserved, others are out there. I consider my family and myself more in the second category, but I have a great deal of respect for those who are more reserved too. And although I tend to think of myself as less inhibited then some, I have, like many others, occasionally told people what they needed to hear rather than what was 100% true (although, I personally hate this).
I will never forget a moment when I was young and an assistant manager at a bridal store. A larger woman came in and tried on a wedding gown that looked awful and trashy and was about 4 sizes too small on her. There were other gowns that would have looked nice, and definitely fit better, but this was the one she fell in love with. I tried not to let my horror show as I noticed the teardrop beads were all standing up instead of lying in place, and there was very little hiding her cleavage. The dress she tried on made her look twice as big as she needed to, and I couldn’t imagine her feelings after her wedding day photos. I wanted her to truly be beautiful and feel beautiful on her wedding day, and I tried to get her to try on others, but she wasn’t interested. “How do I look?” she asked me. “You are an absolutely beautiful person, and I know you will make a gorgeous bride,” I told her, trying not to lie. “But how do I look in this dress?” she asked. “It’s a lovely dress,” I said, again trying to be truthful and not add “but not for you.” “Why aren’t you telling me I look beautiful in this dress?” she said and started crying, which turned into sobs.
Of course I told her she looked beautiful in the dress with as much sincerity as I could muster. “Why does my opinion even matter?” I thought. I wasn’t trying to hurt her feelings, I just felt strongly that the dress was way too small and fit strangely. I still remember her crying and how I gave her compliment after compliment until she left the store smiling. I hated having to lie, absolutely hated it, and hoped that after panels were added, that it would look better. I think that’s why I’m not such a great salesperson – my job there was to just sell the dress after all, and any dress would do.
Social contracts let us tell sick people that they’re looking good, and other people that their diets appear to be working, and that their haircuts don’t look as goofy as we think they do. All in all, the social contract is the white lies we tell to help other people be as happy as possible. It’s not such a bad thing, even when it feels forced. Because the things we don’t tell, are the things that help us keep and improve our relationships with others.
It’s strange though, isn’t it? The things we do to just get along?
Whatever it is, “it’ll be ok.”