But if we didn’t live in a world with rules – let’s call them social mores, conventions, or laws for that matter – then chaos would reign. Arguably, you could say worse chaos would reign than what exists today for some of us.
So we need our rules of various types, which most of us follow to a large extent.
And then there are those who don’t. Sometimes they face consequences. Other times, not so much.
Following or breaking the rules isn’t a black and white issue of course. There are those who routinely break rules and justify anything, those that “bend the rules just this once,” and all sorts of variations in between.
The white lie? The convenient excuse? Does that count as breaking rules – or bending them? Does bending rules too often lead us to break them – without thinking twice?
Heroes and Sociopaths
And what about the hero? The personality type that never backs down from what is right, from the courageous stand, from plunging in to help another even at considerable risk to himself or herself? What about the good souls who live by standards of generosity, honor, and to some extent – selflessness – because any other behavior would seem unthinkable?
According to an article on Science 2.0, we shouldn’t assume that the eternal Do Gooder or Hero is a rule follower. It may be inconceivable for him or her to do the “wrong” thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean following the rules. In fact:
Someone who goes out of their way to help others, even at the expense of their own welfare, is actually more likely to break rules than the average person.
On the other side of the coin is the sociopath – one who is willing to embarrass, demean, or harm others; one who frequently disregards rules entirely; one who may feel no particular worry or guilt as most of us do, and for whom personal motivations rule – and rule-followers drool.
Is narcissism adding to the equation as well? Our seemingly permissive society? Or is contemporary culture so rife with complexity (and moral relativism) that clear-cut situations of right and wrong are fewer than they once were?
Following Rules (Teaching our Kids)
We all want our kids to follow rules – our rules, anyway. And usually, we want them following society’s rules as well. We tell them: don’t cheat at school or you’ll wind up with an F (though adults fudge the expense account or cheat on their taxes); don’t lie or no one will trust you (though we tweak the truth on a regular basis); don’t text and drive or it can kill you (and who here hasn’t broken that one?).
We talk the talk; sometimes we walk the walk.
We know our teenagers (especially) can flash their smiles, and we’re uncertain what’s really going on in their heads.
We insist that following rules is important, and we enforce consequences when we find our children breaking the rules.
We are nonetheless aware that breaking some rules is a matter of personal morality (the civil protester), or the fledgling remains of another era; laws pertaining to same sex encounters come to mind, as do crazy state-specific sex laws which are good for a laugh if nothing else!
Sometimes, breaking or bending the rules is a judgment call. And don’t we want our kids to grow into adults capable of making reasoned judgments? Doing was is morally right even if it breaks or bends a rule? Understanding that we live in a world of moral ambiguity, whether we like it or not?
Issues of Fairness
I might say that we teach most life skills at home; my sons absorbed their values at my side, though not exclusively. They certainly picked up plenty at school, or during periods of time away from me, including with their father, as well as family overseas.
Among their difficult lessons – that life isn’t fair – and that includes seeing others bend rules and get away with it, as well as decisions of their own which required judgment I can only hope leaned toward integrity.
- Do you break rules or bend them?
- Do you justify breaking or bending rules when you believe they’re morally wrong – and you’re morally right?
- Have you lived with or encountered those who break rules just because they can?
- How do you model your approach to your children? The importance of following rules, the consequences of breaking them, issues of judgment?