I broke a rule today and it got me thinking about what sorts of rules we break and why.
Some rules are institutionalized, from government laws right down to rules on the bus and school rules. These rules largely break down to being about safety and convenience. Stop at red lights. Don’t run in the halls. Keep seats close to the doors available for people who need them. Don’t speak unless the teacher calls on you. The questions we must ask are, “Whose safety? Whose convenience.? Do I believe these rules protect the safety and/or convenience. of those I want to protect?”
For instance, based on the number of people who jaywalk, we largely trust our judgement over the law when it comes to our safety. Laws that segregated people by the color of their skin were designed to protect the convenience. of racist white people. Classroom rules assigning each person a desk where they are expected to stay unless excused exist largely for the convenience. of the teacher.
What if you examined the rules that you follow and the rules that you enforce on a daily basis through this lens? Would you do anything different?
The second type of rules are social rules, the unspoken code of what is acceptable. These rules vary widely based on culture and context. They are also, with very few exceptions, top down. That is, in public arenas, white rules triumph over black rules, men’s rules trump women’s rules, and so on. When this is not true- Pride parades come to mind- it is very noticeable. Individuals who break the rules of how they are supposed to behave are also very noticeable. People who break the rules of what they are supposed to do/be crack open stereotypes and undermine oppression.
Social rules, too, are mostly about safety, most often the safety of the people at the top from the threat of having their power and privilege taken away. Rules that govern how loud we can be, how close we can be, and what manners are appropriate, serve as a first line of defense for those in power to judge who might be a threat. Likewise with rules that govern our intimacy, appearance, and language. If you are willing to break one rule, you might be willing to break others. You might be dangerous.
So what sort of rule breaker are you? What rules do you support and what rules do you undermine? Share in the comments!