Playing by the Rules

I find myself sitting in traffic. It’s a dangerous intersection of off-ramps and commercial roadways, with a confusing tangle of turns and lights. But it’s past rush hour and before lunch. Not too bad, I think. I’ll make it through in five or six minutes.

Most of the drivers are waiting patiently. Inching forward as they can. There’s always one guy trying to cut in and out; sometimes he makes headway. Other times, not so much.

Most people – especially when physical safety is concerned – play by the rules. Five minutes isn’t worth a ticket, or the hassle and potential harm of an accident.

And then I see him. One of those massive 18-wheelers, coming from the opposite direction, as he runs a red light. Methodically.

This was not an accidental move. It was blatant.

Given his considerable size, I guess he figured everyone would see him, and no one would get in his way. Typical bully tactic. But effective.

Nobody’s perfect

I’m no angel. Like most of us, I’ve cut a few corners in my life. But generally, I play by the rules – because I believe in doing so. And I don’t respect myself when I behave otherwise.

Are there rules I disagree with? Sure, like everyone – and those are the ones I’m more likely to “bend” if there is necessity to do so. Yet I still try to abide by what’s given. It’s my value system. I believe in a level playing field.

Of course, those of us who start from a premise of fair is fair are often the ones who get rooked by practitioners of “all is fair.” You know the ones. They climb the corporate ladder through favors. They wheedle their way out of responsibilities that you’re left to pick up in addition to your own.

Making excuses

Sometimes the clever conniver is a person you love – someone who uses charm, humor, ruse, or falling back on “boys will be boys” or even “everyone else is doing it.”

Are those excuses or reasons? Are we enabling by accepting them? And is it different on the roadway, in the boardroom, and in the bedroom?

  • And what about our children? Do we insist they follow rules that we then break?
  • What are we teaching them in this – and in the rules we bend and the rules we dismiss?
  • If we turn a blind eye to breaking rules, aren’t we rewarding the cheaters?
  • Under certain circumstances, is that view too simplistic?

Work Life

So the best sales guy has a habit of putting extras on the expense account, but he brings in the big deals.

No one gets hurt, you say – it’s business.

Or maybe he pulls a few dirty tricks when he cuts out the competition. (Sound like our politicians?) And again, you say he’s playing the game the way it has to be played.

Is this anything goes to win the same as running a red light, lying about homework, or fabricating whatever excuse you need for any behavior you want to justify? It’s a slippery slope, right? And what about the reason for rules in the first place – so when we all converge (in intersections of all sorts) – we’ll know how to behave, not to mention, how to stay safe?

Married Life

And then there’s marriage – a complex system beyond easy explanation. Rules? We know what they are in theory, but might it be better if we termed them guidelines? Or is that in itself a sort of excuse?

Sometimes chemistry, love, need – they obscure a partner’s character. We ignore what we don’t want to see, and accept behaviors in our mates – and ourselves – that may violate our (former) rules. We swim in a growing sea of ambiguity.

Is marriage the exception to playing by the rules, or the epitome of the requirement to do so? Are the rules of the game changeable, malleable, and can we set them differently at varying points in time?

Living in the real world

Living in the real world means compromises. We break rules, we bend them, we are – at times – entirely ignorant of them. Intent plays a role in our legal system, as it does in our personal relationships. It’s inevitable that people will hurt each other at times. We make judgment calls, and sometimes they’re off the mark. We live in the real world.

But if we don’t at least try to play by the rules, individually and collectively, aren’t we degrading every aspect of the world we’re leaving to our children?

Which brings me back to the Big Bad Truck. The very symbol of a bully. And we all know bullies – on the playgrounds, in the conference rooms, and sometimes – sitting across from us at the dinner table. Those for whom might makes right , and if damage is done, it’s done to others.

Karmic retribution?

I don’t believe in it. Call me crazy, call me old-fashioned, call me naive. I’ll take my lumps when I mess up, and comfort in the fact that playing by the rules, I’m a little less likely to leave carnage in my wake.

© D. A. Wolf