I have always been a rule follower. In my younger years, I adhered so rigidly to the rules that I often found myself being a tattletale too. I had an acute sense of fairness and a strong desire for everyone to be punished and rewarded equally. As a child, I uttered the complaint “That’s not fair!” so often that my parents finally outlawed those three words in our house. The punishment for breaking that rule was a prompt spanking.
In later years, when I started experimenting with how it felt to break the rules, one important pattern emerged. For the most part, I still had a very strong desire to stick to the rules, except when it came to rules I could not understand. And I have carried that attitude into my adult life thus far. There is a decent-sized list of rules I’ve decided I do not need to follow, based on (what I perceive to be) their low levels of rationality. These rules are not limited to one sector of my life but range all across the board: legal, religious, professional, personal, and societal.
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with people about rules and why I break the ones I do. I suppose I must admit there’s a certain level of arrogance that accompanies any decision not to follow the rules. Intentionally breaking rules implies a certain attitude that one is above the rules, or better than the rules, or smarter than the rule makers.
However, in the last couple weeks or so, I’ve been thrust into a different perspective of following rules I previously thought I didn’t need to follow. There is one rule in particular (a religious one) that I’ve been ignoring for the last six years, and, for reasons that I will not go into here, I have decided to follow the rule again for a defined minimum of one year. I would go into the details, but they are irrelevant and would distract from the point.
The point is, following this rule again has been, among other things, humbling. Amongst my friends and family, it hasn’t been much of an issue because I’ve been able to explain my decision and rationale. But in public, in the actual world, the issue has come up with strangers, and I have realized that I don’t necessarily appreciate automatically being labeled “ultra-conservative” as a result of people finding out that I’m following this rule. Because it has religious foundations and implications, this rule does not apply to everyone, and the people it doesn’t apply to don’t necessarily understand why it’s a rule in the first place.
I recently read a book that described my personality type in great detail. One of the things it specifically said about people with my personality type is that we sometimes like to create rules just so we can break them. We like to draw lines just so we can cross them. This is not really a healthy or productive way to order my life, but it at least sheds some light on some of my previous actions and helps me understand myself a little bit better.
All in all, I think the reason I appreciate rules is that I need semblances of structure in my life because I lack proper self-discipline. If left to my own devices, I would run amok, and my life would make no sense. As it is, with my desire to follow rules and only breaking the irrational ones every now and then, I am able to believe that my life has purpose and meaning, even if it doesn’t necessarily look that way to others. After all, I don’t want to be completely disciplined. I’ve always wanted to be viewed as, in the words I used to describe it to my last boyfriend, “crazy – the good kind of crazy that nobody understands but everybody loves.”
I choose to believe that a systematically inconsistent cycle of rule-setting and -breaking helps me achieve that goal, even if it’s just in my own head.