By Judi Cain April 22, 2006
Rules: Systems, policies, laws, conventions, regulations, decrees, statutes, imperatives, canons, tenets, doctrine, directives, strategies, guidelines . . .
We spend our days trying to find out what The Rules are, deciding which ones apply to us, figuring out how we can follow them, break them or change them, interpreting them to suit our own beliefs, being surprised to learn that someone else interprets them differently, forgetting why the rules were made in the first place, (but still following and defending them,) protesting about the fairness or unfairness of the rules, learning what happens when we break them or change them, and making up our own. We worry about what will happen if we unknowingly break a rule. Is there a rule that will protect us from someone who might take advantage of our ignorance of the rule. After all, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
“Not me,” the Rebel proclaims. “I don’t follow anybody’s rules.”
See what I mean?
If I invite you to play in my sandbox did I forget to mention that since it’s my sandbox, you have to play by my sandbox rules?
1. No throwing sand. 2. No bringing your cat in, especially if his litter box is dirty. 3. You can’t come in when I’m not here. 4. You can’t invite other people without asking me first. 5. I can make up other rules or change them whenever I want to.
If you accept my invitation did you remember to tell me what the rules are for the honor of your presence?
1. You have to treat me special because I’m your guest. 2. Your rules don’t apply to me because I’m special. 3. If you don’t post the rules, they don’t exist. 4. I can make up other rules or change yours whenever I want to. 5. There are other rules that rule your rules.
There are rules our parents taught us: for our own safety and survival, for their convenience, for your own good, because it’s always been a rule in our family, because what will people think?, because it’s God’s rule, because it’s the law, because I said so . . .
There are social rules for how to be acceptable, (which are subject to change depending on who we’re around and what their rules are): How to eat, talk, dress, how much to weigh, when to bathe, how to treat other people, how to be a good citizen, student, friend, neighbor, child, mother, father, wife, husband, grandparent, boss, employee, politician, teacher, taxpayer, artist. If I can make up my own rules and persuade enough others that my rules are right, I can make everyone subject to my rules — I can rule the world! (At least until someone else convinces enough people that their rules are better than mine.)
There are people who write books about rules. Some make their career creating rules “for the people,” while some earn their living by enforcing the rules. There are rules that allow us to fire, sue, incarcerate, punish, shame, shun, divorce, “Baker Act,” or even end the life of someone who breaks the rules. There are also rules that prevent us from being too harsh with those who break our rules. We may get someone to defend us and convince enough others to agree that we didn’t break the rule, or that the rule didn’t apply or maybe there just isn’t enough evidence to prove that a rule was broken or that there was ever a rule in the first place.
There are rules for how to punctuate and construct a sentence. There is a rule for writing that (as I interpret it) dictates if you use the word rule too often you might be breaking the rule of excess repetition.
Each morning we decide (consciously or not) whose sandbox we’re going to play in. The costume I wear that fits the rules for work does not fit the rules for church, or the rules for Goth club, or the rules for the costume party, or the rules for the beach, or the rules for a meeting with my attorney. If I wear the wrong costume, I risk judgment, ridicule, or banishment. Some are blatant and established: “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” “It’s our policy.” “We recommend . . ” “Black tie…” “Come as you are…” “Casual attire.” “No sneakers.” “Coat and tie required” “Clothing optional,” while others are implied: “Doesn’t she look like a slut?” “A little overdressed, don’t you think?” “Who’s he trying to impress?” “They’re just trying to get attention.”
Some spend their days challenging universally accepted rules. At first they are ridiculed and shunned, but if they succeed in defying the rule, they become our heroes because they make it possible for us to fly like a bird, walk on the moon, dive to the depths of the oceans, or send sound waves through the air, around the world and into outer space instantly.
We adhere unconsciously to the rule that dire consequences will follow if we put sugar into the gas tank of our cars, while regularly putting it into the bodies of our children. (There’s no rule against that! … is there?) We both may agree that it is against The Rules to ingest drugs, but your definition of “drugs” may not be the same as mine. Does your definition include alcohol, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, chemicals, (artifical colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives) and chemically refined, “fast” or “convenience” “foods.”
Oh, it makes me so weary I just want to go and live by myself in the woods. Of course it would have to be my own property, subject to the zoning rules, and I would have to pay property tax, which would require some kind of income on which I would have to pay income tax. And I would have to hire someone to prepare my taxes so I don’t have to pay too much. That would require more income and I would have to have appropriate clothes to wear to work. I would have to buy the clothes because I don’t have time to make them since I’m so busy working and I guess I’d better get a car and buy some gas . . . Oh, by the way, they just passed a new rule that says the land I live on is protected because it’s next to a protected area and I have to get a lawyer to help me find out if it’s ok for me to build a house because the one I built myself is not up to code.
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