Rules are meant to protect and direct. Like most ideas, rules exist on a continuum. Go too far one way and you have total control of one entity by another, external entity. The extreme in the other direction is an utter lack of rule, i.e. chaos. The happy medium, then, is found with rules that protect and direct. Rules can be likened to boundaries on a playing field, guide rails on a road, or conduct agreements when signing up for a social networking web site. Each of these examples tell participants where to be and what to do in order to stay in the good graces of the rule creator, which could be a private group or society at large. Rules are not bad. Abiding by rules is good and healthy. Rebelling against rules for the sake of “being different” is, in my opinion, immature. By contrast, obedience is a sign of maturity.
The question we need to answer before we start passing judgment on people in terms of maturity and obedience is where does a rule come from? I believe there are universal, or natural, rules and there are man-made rules. For me, natural rules are governed by God, and although we might not all agree on the source of these natural rules, we can likely agree on the existence of them. Certain ones anyway. I won’t get into them here, I’d rather discuss the creation, acceptance and enforcement of rules.
Natural rules exist without awareness of people. That is, people don’t have to be cognizant of a natural rule to be subject to it. A natural rule would be one that affects me whether I know how to define it or not. Anything else is man-made. How do man-made rules come into existence? Typically, an issue occurs where there is threat of harm or ambiguity exists regarding appropriate behavior. Rules are then created to protect from harm or offer direction for the ambiguous situation. A person or group sees the deficit and offers a suggestion to resolve the problem. If embraced by others it becomes a rule. To be embraced the rule’s results must be obvious and either fall under common sense or be presented with familiar examples of how they fix the problem.
Once accepted, a rule needs to be enforced. This might first happen on what we would call in modern terminology the grassroots level. The new rule spreads via word of mouth and is followed because it makes sense. These rules don’t require much enforcement. Sometimes a proposed rule doesn’t follow the pattern of common sense or obvious benefit, these are the rules that require enforcement. If not enforced they will be ignored. Sadly, in many cases enforcement isn’t enough to prevent rules from being ignored.
Enforcers of rules, in order to comply with the pure intent of rules, must adhere to the rule themselves. Anything less leads to hypocrisy. If the rule is good, the enforcers accomplish their job through education. Explaining what purpose the rule serves helps people to embrace it. Rule enforcers should be teachers. This is when rules are based on common sense and practical reasoning. The natural consequences a rule seeks to circumvent or prevent should be punishment enough for failure to obey a rule. This isn’t always the case when dealing with man-made rules.
Man-made rules are subject to all sorts of influences, many that are less than virtuous. These rules don’t seek to protect and direct, but rather they seek to control and compel. These rules aren’t founded in common sense and take more than education to enforce them. As they are abstracted from nature, these rules do not have the same natural consequence enforcement of good rules, requiring more external pressure to ensure forced compliance, not obedience. Punitive measures are often associated with a rule to aid in its enforcement, because it concerns a matter that is not natural. These types of rules often require the enforcer to be out of compliance with the rule itself or other rules in order to properly enforce it. Herein enters hypocrisy.
I think the point I’m working towards here is to encourage us all to consider why rules are created and how they are enforced. Good rules aim to protect and direct, not control and compel. Good rules guide agency and liberty, they do not restrict them. Good rules depend upon personal responsibility. If we want to be governed by good rules then we must embrace personal responsibility. If we become complacent or lazy in our personal responsibility we face the danger of less favorable rules introduced by society in an effort to make up for our shortcomings. These society imposed rules may have good intent, but the method by which they are carried out are suspect at the very least. Good rules should be our desire, and they depend entirely upon us.
What do you think about rules? Are rules and laws synonymous? Are there good rules and bad rules? Is maturity linked to rebellion or obedience?