In my Social Psychology course I discuss the concept of social norms. Norms are rules for behavior, some of which are formal and may be integrated into our system of laws (stop at red lights, don’t steal, file your taxes); others are more subtle and are learned by watching the behavior of others around us as we grow and develop (shaking hands when we meet someone, maintaining certain physical distances from other people, holding a door for someone behind us). Adhering to these norms tends to keep us out of trouble and wins the approval of others; deviating from these norms can lead to being punished or socially ridiculed. And while many social norms are universally shared, others tend to be culturally specific. One of the aspects of travel that I find particularly fascinating is being exposed to different sets of social norms depending upon the culture I’m visiting.
Although I’m not a clinical psychologist and I recognized early in my career that I didn’t have the patience to deal with patients, I’ve been studying psychology for almost 40 years and teaching for over 30. From the original writings of Dr. Freud to the hideous array of pop psychology self-help books that abound in bookstores, a theme emerges all too frequently: whatever the psychological issue you are dealing with, it is probably somehow your mother’s fault. While I personally think mothers have been unfairly targeted in this argument over the root cause of our adult neuroses, I can definitively say that my mother is absolutely the reason for the fact that I am a self-diagnosed Travel Addict today.
Mama and me, May 1959
Several years ago, partly because of my interest in the topic and partly to justify my obsession with travel and turn it into an academic endeavor, I created a 1-unit psychology course entitled, “The Psychology of Travel” which I now teach on a regular basis at Dominican University of California.