It is one of the gaps of sociological studies that social mores have rarely been subjected to scholastic scrutiny

Life is a profound yet subtle experience. The origins of norms, values and regulations are visible only at a certain level and in the context of certain experiences. For instance, consider the almost global feeling amongst Homo sapiens that taking human life is wrong, no matter what the colour of their skin, religion or caste. It doesn’t really matter if that person is from the jungles or the cities, or if he is literate or illiterate.

The list of such rules, social mores, customs and behaviours is endless. Consider the universal feeling of love, concern and care that parents have for their offspring. Like other such generic examples these sentiments need no codification. They are so universal that they have become an integral and spontaneous part of life. These may well be referred to as unspoken laws. However, the story doesn’t end there.

What has been said above is generic and global. Moving beyond it can be specific and regional, probably local.

Consider perhaps, the oldest surviving institution of mankind: Marriage. A man and woman commit themselves to each other and to a lifelong partnership. Sometimes this partnership is accompanied by rituals, on other occasions it has been known to be a private contract. When backed by law there is a whole template of prerequisites and consequences. In many cases it leads to procreation, however, all procreation, in biological terms, does not need the institution of marriage.

The purpose of these lines is not to explore the depth and the reach of this institution but to indicate that basically many patterns of marriage can and are covered by the umbrella of “unspoken rules.” References can be found to gandharva marriage (undisclosed but accepted physical relationship between two consenting adults).What can be legislated has its limitations.

To the universe of unstated rules one could add those that have to do with kindness, thoughtfulness, honesty, need for communication, sharing and more. As indicated above, there could be variations in these norms from region to region or indeed from one social unit to another. The bonding of these unstated rules creates a community. And the community can take the form of caste, creed and more.

There are people who believe that there is a certain type of topic selection which should and can be referred to as “girl talk.” Similarly, there can be and there is such a thing as “men’s talk.” Put simply, whether it is “girl talk” or “men’s talk”, exceptions apart, intruders across genders are not commonly invited or welcomed. Thus it is plausible to argue that unspoken rules govern widely and in course of time become inputs to defining culture.

In a man-woman relationship, whatever be its character and locale — office, society, extended family or causal relationship, the ground rules are mostly known. Illustratively, certain references are banned even with or without intimacy. There is always a discreet sense of privacy which is maintained, not only in dress but also in the choice of words or for that matter the subject of discussion.

Consider the question of hijab for example. Many followers of Islam, men and women alike, believe it is an essential part of a woman’s attire. The uniting thread is a belief in what they think their faith demands. Move from Islam to Christianity. The world view changes. Hijab is not intrinsic to Christianity and most Christian communities do not consider it necessary for women to wear a veil (except for nuns and while praying).

However, in some other religions, while wearing a veil all the time may not be necessary for women, covering the head is considered very desirable in the presence of elders and in situations requiring reverence, especially during worship. This is one more example of the unstated rules of life.

Why must one be “seeing off” the other person when that person is leaving? Surely, this is a part of a social ritual. It may be common but it is not universal. Similarly, why receive a guest at the door? Be that as it may, there are certain unspoken rules which have existed across centuries and certain unwritten rules which survived just a few generations, if even that. Consider the fact, that in certain cold, hilly communities in the world, rubbing of the nose was the accepted greeting and now after the emergence of the Coronavirus even shaking of the hands is being discouraged globally.

Perhaps it is one of the gaps of sociological studies that these unstated rules have rarely, if ever, been subjected to scholastic scrutiny. It is time the gauntlet was picked.