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Davis, California

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Breaking Norms: Robots or ninjas?

Savannah Holmes
Savannah Holmes

Robotic. That’s essentially the type of movement people seem to expect from you. If you don’t conform to the norms laid out and you instead spring to life like an actual human, then there might be something … off.

Take walking around campus for instance — everyone seems to blend together quite seamlessly. There aren’t students running and jumping around like ninjas, nor are there any who really stand out in an obvious way (as far as body language and movement goes).

So, how come this is our reality? Well, the rules of social conduct tell us that bursting out spontaneously would frighten those who don’t do that, and acting wild is for savage animals. But we are savage humans. So, I decided during my daily routines around campus to test this social norm.

When people don’t expect me to transform my slow-paced, run-of-the-mill walk into a full sprint ending with a ninja kick, their visible response portrays their confusion. I think that general members of society think that if someone were to do this kind of thing, they would need to follow it up with some sort of improvised dance or acknowledgement of their public atrocity.

Therefore, when someone like me transitions from normal to momentarily savage and then right back to normal, it plays with people’s minds.

While flying solo and walking between two classes, I played the part of a normie (a term coined by Birdstrike Improv meaning “society’s concoction of normal people”) and I was just walking … but then, unexpected by the people near me, I busted into a sprint and leaped into the air, executing a sub-par heel click (at best), only to continue on normally like nothing happened.

The most socially unacceptable part about this stunt was my lack of acknowledgment in participating in something that deviates from standard public display. The looks I got read as “Wait, what did I just see?” and “What exactly sparked that?” Well, the answers are “You just saw social rebellion, good sir!” and “Nothing. Nothing sparked that. I just felt like it.”

The reason I decided to observe people’s reactions to this type of norm stemmed from a personal experience earlier on in the year. A friend and I were standing outside talking in our dorm complex, when a student sauntered out and, upon passing us, they spontaneously sprinted and executed a mild-core parkour trick off of a planter.

What stunned us was that after this person did that, they continued on so casually just like nothing had happened while philosophically staring up at the sky.

It wasn’t one of those “Hey, I’m going to attempt to impress these people” moves. It was just a student, so completely in their own zone, feeling it. I don’t think they registered that anyone else was around, and so the same thing would have happened even if they were on an uninhabited island.

And we loved it. To this day, we are still completely confused as to what we witnessed that we still talk about it.

It’s not a normal thing to transition the way one carries themselves in public like that — i.e. going from calm and collected to crazy and energetic, and then back to the former.

That experience taught me to expect the unexpected.

I like to think I’ve mastered the craft of doing things that evoke confusion, awe and worry in people. There are a myriad of actions we could take when we participate in ordinary tasks, but the potential judgment of our peers prevents that. Also, it might frighten people.

Despite all of that, let us adopt the phrase “Balls to the wall” and just become impromptu ninjas whenever and wherever.

People may gawk, as did bystanders when I danced and kicked down the aisles of Trader Joe’s, but so be it.

Breaking social norms is all about showing people that rules, especially the unwritten ones, can be broken and that they are just as ridiculous as the sight of me “parkouring” off of a tree in the Quad.

If you want to dash off, kick walls and then pretend like nothing happened with SAVANNAH HOLMES, contact her at skholmes@ucdavis.edu.