May 15, 2009, Category: Musings

To Obey or Not to Obey


HP2Q6310I was taught to obey God and Country, and I did. I followed rules to the T, for the most part (hmmm, to the T ‘for the most part?’). So I wasn’t perfect, but still, I followed rules, I feared rules, I lived by rules.

Back then, I adhered for two main reasons; God and my parents (I didn’t want to disappoint either of them). I didn’t question; I didn’t second guess; I accepted and lived them. I believed God was at the helm and of course, whatever he said I should do…obviously I should do.

Fast forward through me disappointing my parents in the biggest way ever (leaving the church). Now I no longer worry about letting God or my parents down yet for some reason, I still try and adhere to the laws of the land. I don’t speed…well rarely speed (and extreme speeding for me is 8 mph over). In fact, I still live many of the Mormon teachings even though I am no longer active with the church because I believe certain principals make my life better.

When my daughter had her learners permit, I wouldn’t budge from the strict rules for a new driver even though she and her mother hassled me for it. “But why dad, it’s only one mile, I won’t get pulled over, let me just drive my friend home.” And from my ex: “Just let her drive Jordan home, what is your problem…why do you always have to follow rules?”

Part of me agreed with them, what was the big deal? Why do I get so hung up on rules? Especially when I know that I don’t always follow the rules. One night at 2am I waited for a stop light for way longer than a working system would keep me at an intersection. I finally just ran it. That was breaking the law. Where exactly does my double standard draw lines? I try to follow them all. Even the laws I disagree with or think are just plain stupid. Why? Because as a society, we have to conform to our mutually agreed upon code in order to exist peacefully.

There are a lot of rules I believe are important. Chances are that you don’t feel the same set of laws I think are critical, are all as important as I do. Throw more people in the mix and it gets even worse. In the end, we have millions of people whose opinion on ethics, standards, and beliefs is as wide as the Mississippi. If we each take it upon ourselves to break the rules we don’t think are important, we step towards anarchy.

My good buddy and I had a big debate about this topic last fall when UW was penalized for celebrating in the end zone. It was minor, yes. But according to the rule, there was an infraction. And they had been warned before the game that any end zone celebration would be enforced. In my opinion it was a stupid rule, but, it was still a rule and had to be enforced. The rule should be changed, not ignored because it’s lame. The minute we let everyone start breaking rules they feel aren’t important, the system loses stability. No rule, even the most extreme, are agreed on by everyone. I don’t want to turn the interpretation of laws to individuals. Sure, a lot of the times it doesn’t really matter in the end…but then, a lot of times it does.

People disobey rules all the time because they feel the law doesn’t apply to them. We won’t ever get away from that. Our society, however, would be much better if everyone did follow laws and not let their own opinions and feelings dictate which rules they break and which ones they keep.

Imagine if a thief, murderer, or child abuser with this attitude: “Well, I think I should be able to (insert crime here), but I won’t because as a society we have established laws against it…so instead, I will lobby to have the law changed.” Yes, it’s a ridiculous example, but it summarizes my point. People who break laws obviously have rationalized that for whatever reason, the laws don’t apply to them. If I expect them to follow the laws, despite their own thoughts on which rules are right or wrong, I have to follow the same guideline.

That is why I am, generally, a stickler when it comes to following rules (even the stupid ones that don’t seem to be a big deal). And again, I’m not perfect it and have broken laws. My daughter caught me rolling slowly through a stop sign recently. I’m a hypocrite; I can’t follow my own advice. But I do try and I know it frustrates people around me sometimes. But I believe it’s important unless you have an extreme socially acceptable reason not to (my son was dying in the back seat and we broke the speed limit and ran a few stop signs rushing to the hospital). But I know even that is left up to individual interpretation, which is what I’d prefer to avoid.

Rules help with parenting too. We set up a structure, agree to live by a code, and then if a rule is broken we know the consequence (I’m sorry, you can’t have a friend over cause you chose not to do your jobs…but do you want to shoot some hoops with me?). I don’t have to be mean, I don’t have to get angry, it’s the structure that enforces the consequence. But that is a whole ‘nuther article.

This viewpoint doesn’t apply in all environments. If we lived in an oppressed society I would probably be writing stuff that would get me thrown in jail by encouraging people to break the chains binding us. But we don’t. We are quite free here in the USA and most places in the world. Life is rather decent, and we have a lot of good around us. My advice is, follow the rules. If you don’t like them, lobby to change them or move somewhere where what you want to do is legal. This philosophy isn’t without flaws, but I think it would lead to the best overall environment for a civilized, democratic society.If you think I’m way off base here, let me know. I’d like to know your take on it.

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One thought on “To Obey or Not to Obey

  • By Grandma Henke - Reply

    The old adage “Rules are made to be broken” or “Better to do it now and ask for forgiveness later” are two statements that quarrel with following rules or laws. I remember several times while working with the state agencies when the only way we could reach our goal with a client was to “bend” or even “ignore” the rule and play dumb. A few times I definitely broke the rules in order to bring some happiness to some of our clients … like taking two tour buses of people to Disneyland with staff who volunteered their time. The rule is that staff can’t volunteer to do what they are normally paid to do but there is no way we could have made the trip paying them all an hourly wage (plus overtime). They would still be taking care of the people in the same way as they normally would. It would have been costly had we been turned in but I weighed it all in my mind and chose to break that wage and hour law and pray we wouldn’t be caught. (Now isn’t that an oxymoron for you? Pray to not get caught breaking a rule.) If we’d been audited it could have been costly to our non profit agency … and probably for me personally. I didn’t feel guilty for it (probably because we were never caught) until I read your post and got to thinking about my personal ethics. I have always prided myself in being honest and law abiding … but have I been? Other times I have bent the rules in fulfilling an assignment (even a church one)knowing I would be forgiven if the end result was good … hoping that it would be good. For instance, shopping at a store that was more convenient because it had more of the merchandise I needed than that were on the approved list. It saved me hours of shopping time … but technically I was breaking the rule and hoping I would still get reimbursed. I guess the risk I was taking there was that I wouldn’t get reimbursed … so it would be my personal loss. I think rules and laws are good. I would never advise anyone to break one … but in retrospect I see that I have decided which ones I would ignore. I have always prided myself in being honest … but if I omit telling something because the correct question wasn’t asked am I technically lying? When children first learn to talk they blurt out the truth without thinking of consequences. Later they think of the consequences and learn to only answer the questions.

    I think the world is safer with laws and rules and I will try hard to obey then. I won’t be driving more than 4 miles above the speed limit (uh oh there’s one) or robbing a bank or even snagging a candy bar at the store … but sometimes, I have to admit, people may still have to ask me the right question. I’ll work on it.

    Your blog was well written and thought provoking.

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