a formal partyImagine yourself descending some stairs, about to arrive at the party pictured here. How do you feel?

Nervous and self-conscious? Excited and energetic? Bored and indifferent? Angry and argumentative?

Do you feel that you are equipped with the social skills and social knowledge you need to navigate this event in a way you would consider successful?

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a beautiful parable about the complexities of navigating life without a rulebook. Upon being hired as a convenience store worker, the main character undergoes training that includes videos, as well as personalized instruction from a manager, on how to behave. She finds this training exciting:

“It was the first time anyone had ever taught me how to accomplish a normal facial expression and manner of speech.”

We undergo years of schooling to learn about reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic . . . but we are often not explicitly taught how to act in social situations. And yet, there are many social rules that one breaks at one’s own peril. It’s hard to argue for the explicit teaching of social mores, because that leans a bit too far into the arena of indoctrination. On the other hand, it’s maddening—I know from personal experience, and I know I’m not alone—to feel at a loss as to how to act in a given situation.

Do you remember a time when you learned a social skill you did not previously possess? How did this come about?