Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rules, Regulations, and Rubbish

Well, I've had one of those conversations recently. The kind one has with one's spouse every now and again, where there is much frustration and non-communication, and nothing really gets better as a result. But since I've had this one a couple times before, it's been sitting the back of my head, simmering, and now I think maybe I have part of an answer. Of course, you don't know the question, so I'll frame it for you:  why do I find it necessary to question rules and regulations wherever I find them?

And the short answer is simple: I don't.

There are lots of rules and regulations that I accept. Speed limits, for example. I don't necessarily obey them to the letter, but I know what they're fore, and why they exist, and by and large I approve of them. On the whole, anyhow.

Speed limits are an excellent example, in fact, because they are precisely the kind of rule that was never written with someone like me in mind. And here we come to the crux of my argument. Allow me to be a little arrogant, for just a moment: I need you to accept, for the sake of this argument, that I'm a little smarter than the mythical Average Jo. There's reasonable evidence of that assertion, but I don't think I want to go into that here, so let's just accept the assertion for the moment.

What does that mean, anyhow?

Well, I'm not wholly sure. In my late forties, I'm still finding out exactly what 'being a bit smarter' means with regard to my relationship to the norms and behaviours of the bulk of the human race. I know this, though: I don't actually need speed limit laws.

I don't need them because I can clearly understand the consequences of driving too quickly, and of doing so on a road system full of other people driving too quickly. More: I understand what 'too quickly' really means, and I moderate my driving as a result. Slower in complex conditions. Faster in clear, open, hazard-free driving conditions. This is simple sense, as far as I'm concerned. I don't actually need the speed limit signs, because I will voluntarily limit my own speed purely for my own well-being, that of my passengers, and of other people and creatures on the road.

And yet there are speed limits, and laws to enforce them. Why is this so? Why is it necessary? Well -- as gently as possible, it's because not everyone who gets behind the wheel of a car thinks about it in the same manner. I'm not talking about the petrolhead who loves his car, and picks an open stretch of empty highway to crank up his project car. To me, that's someone else who has examined the situation and worked out what speed limits are for. The petrolhead may be risking his life, but if he's done his homework, he's not risking anybody else's life. And hell; a lot of petrolheads drive pretty well. Maybe he's not even risking himself significantly. But like me, our putative petrolhead isn't exactly representative of Average Jo.

Politeness is another example. My friends will tell you, if you ask them, that around them I'm not particularly polite. That's because I've thought about politeness, and I understand what it's for, and where it works. Politeness is a specific verbal and behavioural code designed to signal others that we are limiting our actions in specific ways, and can be relied upon to continue observing those limits. Politeness signals people we don't know that our intentions are non-harmful, and we can be negotiated with. Politeness signals to people that we do know that the conversation or behaviour has gone past the understood limits of our existing relationship, and we need to proceed carefully.

My friends don't need that from me. They know me. They know the limits I place on my own behaviour, by and large, and they accept that behaviour. Of course, it's different strokes for different folks. There are friends who are comfortable with some behaviours and not others. That's fine. It's a matter of learning the boundaries, and trying to observe them. (That, by the way, I regard as 'courtesy' or 'respect', not mere politeness. I am often very polite to people that I do not respect at all. It's considerably easier that way.)

So how does this lead to the issue of 'questioning rules'? Simple, really. Given that I don't really need most rules because I understand them, and the purpose behind them, it follows that when I don't understand the need for a particular rule, my radar goes off. If I haven't understood the reason for a rule, it suggests there may be a danger or hazard for which I'm not prepared, and obviously, I don't like that. And of course, the simplest and most logical way of discerning whether or not there's something genuinely important behind the rule is just to ask.

So, yes. Nat's right. I do question rules. Pretty much all of 'em. And why not? Is there some kind of rule against that? And if there is such a rule... why does it exist?

Now there's something to think about.