Life — Social Obligations

One thing that has always frustrated is the obligations social situations carry with them. Even to people that are close to us, we’re expected to act a certain way even if its not to our personal gain. In the past I’ve talked about how I don’t like ‘scripted’ conversations. I hate the back and forth of “Hi, how are you?” followed by “I’m doing good, what’s new?” and then “Not much,” and so on until you start talking about the entire point of making conversation in the first place. Especially over the phone, this wastes so much time and it’s not even ‘you’ that’s talking. I’m pretty sure “Not much” as a statement wouldn’t be in my vocabulary at all if I didn’t have to use it as a placeholder for a blank response.

But anyways, I won’t go into too much detail about that this time around. Today, I’ll be doing another (sort of) rant about social obligations, but specifically about what people want from you and what is expected of you in return. Before I start, though, note that in these circumstances I’m referring specific to social scenarios, not “rules of life” or politics or anything like that.

If somebody asks if I’m busy, I am socially obligated to help them unless I have some excuse (whether or not that excuse is ‘real’). I cannot say “No, I will not pick you up from the airport because I don’t want to deal with the traffic today.” I can’t say I don’t want to do things, even if that is the simple truth. It is more socially acceptable to exaggerate than to tell the truth, and I think that’s stupid. I think operating this way works to everyone’s detriment in the long run, in fact. I believe that if somebody wants or needs another’s help, they are obligated to do at least something small to return the favor. Nobody should ever be expected to do something nice for free.

One big issue that makes this more prevalent is the illusion that we are tied to our families. “Because we’re family” should not be ‘reason enough’ for anything ever. One’s family is a group of people that are bonded from lack of choice, and I think that the only reason it usually works out is the combination of sheer amount of time spent together and similar genetics dictating similar personalities. If there are people in your family that you don’t like, there should be no obligation to pretend otherwise. You don’t owe them any favors. Parental figures are a different issue, but I think becoming an independent, successful adult is ‘payback’ enough for raising you.

I think at its core choice should be the source of obligation. “Sorry, I can’t go to this party I already promised my son I’d take him to the zoo today”. You’re obligated to take your son to the zoo because you made the choice of committing yourself to it. We are obligated to do things because of the choices we have made in the past. If our choice wasn’t involved, obligation shouldn’t be either. If I need somebody’s else, it is still my choice to ask them for assistance. I am obligated to return a gesture of thanks if they are kind enough to help, but I can’t be mad at them for not helping simply because they don’t want to. My problem shouldn’t immediately become theirs as soon as I communicate with them.

The worst part about all this is the fact that if I’m the only one that practices these rules around me, I come off as an insensitive jerk. It’s just something we all have to deal with, one way or another I guess. Perhaps my philosophy will change as I age.

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