We all live by specific rules and laws. We abide by traffic laws, we go into stores when they’re open and leave when they’re closing, we follow the guidelines of our workplace, our children’s school, and our society at large. These structures, no matter how small or how big, are put in place to organize and facilitate cooperation. At best, it offers us a foundation that helps us live life more efficiently and safely. It’s nice knowing that everyone on the road is following the same set of rules, right?
However, rules can also be frustrating. Especially when they seem arbitrary or not so helpful. Take the FAA and TSA regulations for commercial flights as a prime example (I fly a lot.)
Exactly why can’t we use the first-class bathroom on a flight if you’re seated in coach—even though they are usually no different? Then there’s the rule about turning off all electronics during taxi and take-off—even though in reality it will take 20 minutes to queue up on the runway, and I could have sent off ten urgent emails in that time, resulting in responses waiting for me in my inbox upon landing.
Here’s my question, we have many important rules that help our world to flow correctly, but does anyone else think that there are some we could probably be flexible about—or not have at all? Now, I’m not talking about anarchy. The point I’m making is that eventually, our norms need to evolve, and for that to happen, we have to identify and speak up about what doesn’t really serve us anymore.
Did you know that the ancient Romans used communal toilets? No walls, no doors to separate anyone, just a block of concrete with several holes on top and people using the amenity together as if it was as normal as breathing, or going to brunch. Can you imagine doing that in today’s world? Not quite, but it was the norm then, and thankfully we evolved beyond it. But it takes people willing to question the rules, even the rules of social engagement, for that evolution to occur.
I remember a night when my husband and I were leaving a concert at Yankee Stadium; we were totally trapped in gridlock – we hadn’t moved an inch in 15 minutes. My husband, being the curious problem solver that he is, got out of the car and walked ahead into the traffic to figure out what was going on. He noticed that there were ramps on each level, one leading to the right and one to the left, All the signs say “TO EXIT KEEP RIGHT” but the ramp to the left leads to the exact same place. Robert Frost took the road less traveled, so we decided to as well. We took the ramp to the left and made it to the bottom of the structure in about 3 minutes, while a hundred other cars waited obediently.
Rules, even the arbitrary ones, create a feeling of safety. We feel confident, and we know how to proceed. But that doesn’t mean that the current way was the best. Rules provide a frame of reference, a guideline, and a structure but after a while, but like most things in life, they need to be reassessed, and the best way to do that is to ask questions, speak up when something doesn’t feel quite right, and challenge the rule.
What “rules” are you following that need to be challenged? What structures have you agreed to that are no longer serving you or your growth? It could be an actual rule, like rethinking the organization of the drop-off and pick-up at your child’s school. It could be a collective rule like one that excludes certain rights to a group of people. It can even be a limiting belief that you have lived by for too long, giving you reasons why you “can’t” or “shouldn’t” do something that brings you joy.
For me, I prefer to live by the golden rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s the purpose of life, really. And all too often we forget it’s the rule we actually need. As we behave towards others, so will they behave toward us; if we are present when others are in need, then we are heard when we are in need. This responsibility to each other and the acceptance of this responsibility is why we are in this world. And it is a rule that can bring about significant change.
The onus is on each and every one of us to question the structures around us and to challenge the status quo, especially when it is no longer serving us or others. But before we can begin, we must first change ourselves by challenging our self-imposed rules, by questioning our beliefs, and by stepping into the power of the unknown to forge a new way.
What rules in your life are supportive? Which ones are not? Try (safely) breaking an arbitrary rule today—walk out the entrance, ask to use a staff-only restroom, whatever arises. Free yourself for a moment from what you feel you have to do and do the things that are necessary for you to do. Share your experience below in the comments.
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Reading this while midst the quarantine and so much unknown it gives an even greater perspective on rules and how they are here to protect us. Even if they take away the norm but are put in place to keep us all safe.