Rules make me nervous

Rules are most certainly the most explicit of conventions. Whenever I am exposed to a rule I find myself torn. Part of me wants to break it for the sake of my personal freedom. The other part feels obliged to comply. Do you know that awkward feeling?

All too often rules make no sense at all. And more often than not they have toxic side effects.

Let’s have a closer look at rules

Rules rarely originate from dark motives. Mostly their introduction follows an unexpected event that one wants to avoid recurring. Or they are introduced proactively in order to prevent undesirable outcomes, e.g. parents establishing a rule “You’re not allowed to use the tool box without our supervision“.

Rules conserve actual or presumed knowledge. They serve as a shortcut. That is their function. If they didn’t exist, all knowledge would have to be reacquired each time the same situation repeated itself resulting in time consuming and sometimes dangerous consequences. Depending on the approach, an airline pilot has to lower their undercarriage about nine kilometres ahead of the runway. A rule that makes sense.

Often though, rules lose their validity. This is why organisations should regularly conduct inventories of all their operational rules – an exercise I frequently recommend and carry out in my work.

And even more often, rules actually never had their place. Instead they are the result of a reflex that occurs when people oversee other people (e.g. citizens, employees, children). Then rules are a manifestation of their distrust. They institutionalise the withdrawal of responsibility by implicitly (or explicitly) assuming the citizen’s, employe’s or child’s inability to act responsibly.

Our society is full of those rules. Parents that hand out rules like candy; the state introducing new laws in the interest of safety; bosses doubting their employees’ ability to make sound decisions although they are exposed to the problem far more closely than the boss himself.

(Unnecessary) rules are dangerous because they infantilise those who are governed by them. They are the subtle seed of the totalitarian notion that has led us into dreary eras time and time again.

Of course, useful rules exist too. Therefore – as with any convention – we shouldn’t condemn them in general but act a lot more consciously when introducing and retaining them.

Your challenge

Give it a try. As suggested in the video, I recommend making a note of every rule that you are exposed to or you impose on others for one whole week.

Where am I?

Did you stumbled upon this page accidentally? It’s part of an eight week series about the way I challenge conventions and how this enabled me to live an unconstrained and free life. Find out more here.