Here’s an example: On a highway, my father had rules about how fast he would go if he thought no one would catch him. He would follow different rules if he thought he might be caught or knew a Highway Patrol car was likely be lurking in a nearby speedtrap. He had rules about going five to ten miles an hour above the speed limit around town.
I absorbed a lot of these anti-rule rules growing up and riding in cars with him. By the time I started driving, I started thinking this way too. If someone was going a couple of miles an hour under the 35 mph limit on Iris, I would always take my first opportunity to pass them, so I could go 39 or 40 or 42 miles an hour. Going faster means getting there first, not to mention getting out in front of other traffic for a clearer view. I still hate it when another highway driver matches my speed and settles in just behind me — or even worse, one lane over.
It came as a revelation when I noticed I didn’t always have to accelerate into the lead; I could drop my speed and let someone pass. Slowing down had seldom been presented as a valid option — unless it was to make a point to a tailgater (as a child when I heard that word, I imagined the terrible green animal that would roar up from behind to chew the car with its spiky teeth).
Breaking rules made people stand out. Sticking to the rules was for squares, or people who didn’t have the nerve to stand up for themselves. My parents came along at the right moment to be swept up in a mass movement of disruptors and rebels and dropouts and sidesteppers and hobos who would rather do anything but get a 9-to-5 gig and dress like all the other cogs in the corporate machine. To my father, not being like his suit-wearing father was on the level of moral imperative. And every rule my father broke put more distance between him and all he rejected.
I have a child who is in a religious phase (at least I think it is a phase — ask me about this in a few years!). After an hour of discussion, she cried, “But I want to be told what to do!”
What a tightrope we walk in this life, between doing what we want to do, and what needs to be done and what we’re asked to do (because no one wants to be told what to do) — while wanting to be told what the heck we should be doing here in the first place! Each of us has so many counterweights to balance as we travel along our own private highwire.
Scoop Nisker used to say on KFOG, “If you don’t like the news, go make some of your own.” More and more, I feel that way about the rules. Instead of presuming that breaking rules makes life worth living, and that somehow we are all entitled to have this slightly inflated portion of what is officially granted to us, I want instead to try to change the things I detest. As I like to say, "It's your world; I'm just redesigning it."
Of course, as someone who grew up around radical activists, I am well aware that there are a lot of great reasons to break rules that don't make sense. I believe in a healthy mix between following and questioning authority. A lot of authorities have a lot to answer for these days, and I am glad to see more and more people speaking truth to power and demanding change. There's no reason the game should be rigged in favor of white people or men or rich people or Christians or any single group. I just don't feel as entitled as my father seemed to -- whether it was by our smarts or our privilege or our willingness to break rules to get ahead. But we're all in this jam together, and it seems to me a few rules will be more of a help than a hindrance as we try to make our way down the line.