For some reason, I have been doing a lot of thinking about rules these last few days (and posts). I am not really sure why that is–my best guess is that it developed from my own self-imposed rule of having something to post here three days a week. In previous posts, I have already established that I am somewhat ambivalent towards rules, wanting some of them sometimes, wanting others all the time and not wanting some ever. I have sometimes been classed as a rule-breaker, mostly because of my lack of concern for certain rules–is splitting an infinitive really all that bad?
But even though I am sometimes ambivalent about rules, I recognize the need for some rules–humans can’t exist without rules to guide our interactions. Unfortunately, sometimes we have taken that need for rules and gone overboard, creating rules and regulations for everything under the sun and quite a few things that aren’t under the sun. And then we find ourselves in the position of having to decide which rules we are going to follow and which we are going to break. And that is no easy task.
Some seem bent on obeying every rule. Their personal rule book declares all rules valid and important and must be obeyed. There are some who see every rule as something to be challenged. Their personal rules book is very short, consisting of one rule only: “Break all rules”. Between these extremes, the majority of the rest of us sit and wonder what to do.
Ironically, we all probably need some personal rules about keeping and breaking rules. And those of us who feel a need to break rules probably have something like that somewhere in our minds, although we probably have never really examined our rules for breaking rules.
We would likely benefit a lot from taking some time to look at our standards for rules. If we do that, we will probably find that a major factor in our decisions about whether to follow a rule of not is based in our self-interest.
When the highway is clear and dry, it is in my self-interest to break the speed limit rule. I don’t actually gain much benefit from breaking the rule since I always have enough time to get to where I am going but in the end, I will probably break the rule because I want to. However, if I know there will be police on the road, I won’t break the rule–again, out of self-interest. I don’t really want to pay the fine.
Self-interest isn’t the best standard for choosing which rules to follow. Adam and Eve used self-interest to make their decision about breaking the one rule they had. For their sakes, I hope the fruit they wanted tasted great because that would have been the only benefit they got from using self-interest as their way of deciding which rules to break.
We all get upset when someone breaks rules to benefit themselves at the sake of others. Picture yourself waiting in a line up somewhere–a theater or bank line perhaps. We all wait our turn because that is the rule. Someone comes in and jumps to the head of the line, maybe mumbling an apologetic excuse or maybe just jumping in. Since I am Canadian, I will quietly fume but still be angry. Someone might say something but since most of us don’t, the line jumper is pretty safe. But his self-interest does cause problems for the rest of us.
My guess is that most rules get broken from some form of self-interest. But I am not sure that is a particularly good standard for breaking rules. My experience has been that for every self-interest that benefits from breaking a rule, there is probably another self-interest that is harmed, irritated or upset by breaking that rule. No matter how many justifications, explanations, reasons or excuses we come up with, breaking the rules just because it benefits us is going to create some resentment for someone. Even when the line breaker is a disabled, sick, elderly person who needs money right now to keep the evil creditor from repossessing the family farm, someone is still going to be upset when she breaks the rule and cuts in line.
While rules are not necessarily made to be broken, most of us will decide to break a lot of them in the course of our lives. Maybe, though, we need a better theory and theology of rules than our own self-interest.
May the peace of God be with you.