What Happens If You Don’t Follow The Rules


I was recently in a situation where two people met a stalemate. You see there was a rule, and one person wouldn’t follow it. The other insisted they must, and they replied “What are you going to do?”

It sounds like a situation you would have with a five year old. A problem with an obstinate primary-schooler who refuses to stay in their seat during class. You tell them the rule, and they’ve figured out that, really, there isn’t anything you can do about it.

The situation wasn’t resolved, one person stormed out, but it raised an interesting question for me.

How often in life do we follow rules that we don’t really have to? And why? Because they are the rules. Often it’s because we understand the rules, like not swimming 20 minutes after eating. Or not standing up during takeoff on an aeroplane. We see the need for the rule, we respect it, and therefore we follow it.

But what about when we don’t understand the rule? Don’t agree with it? I’m not talking about the law, I’m talking about unenforceable rules. Rules that society makes up and we all get upset if they’re not followed. This could be anything from obscure etiquette to signposts saying things like “resident parking only”.

Parents With Prams parking, for example, is actually in no way enforceable. I know this because I’ve attempted to report it when this rule was flouted right in front of me. But it’s not really a rule, it’s just a perceived rule. If you are not a parent with a pram, yet you park there, there is nothing anyone can do about it. And yet, when you drive through a parking lot, most people don’t park there. Why? Because it’s the rules. Because we understand the rules. We see the need for the rules. Because we understand that a parent who has a pram is probably going to need a closer space than someone who does not have a child. (Although, as a side note, if I had a 3 year old in the car but no pram because I was going to make them walk… or maybe a baby in a sling… could I still park there? How strict are we on this rule?)

But on the odd occasion someone does not agree with the rule, or understand it, what can we really do? Really. Think about it – what can you actually do to enforce a rule when it is not the law? What, are they going to give in because we’re scowling at them?

Which brings me back to my stalemate. You see, there’s a rule, and there’s a person who has decided that rule does not apply to them. And I ask you, what can anyone do?


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  • Mazi Gray

    People who don’t follow rules like that can make the day of everyone else a little bit worse, making the world a less nice place (If anyone has read “Good Omens” they will know what I mean).

    A society depends on niceties, the more crowded, the more important these little manners are. When they start breaking down it is a slippery slope and more go with it, next thing you know we need security guards at football matches to enforce common sense.

    Apart from naming and shaming though, there is not much we can do, but hopefully you can change the behaviour of those without shame.

  • http://music.johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    You know, I’m sure in less civilised days, if someone was disobeying the rules, some of the local men would take the offending party out the back alley and kick the shit out of them…

    …being civilised sucks!

  • Monique Fischle

    The whole “parents with prams” parking irritates me, not that I think they don’t need it, but on more than one occasion, I’ve seen “parents with prams” park in a disabled spot. I don’t find the disabled permit on their car, just kids and prams. It irritates me more than I can say. Similarly, I remember a few years go Mia Freedman posted a column about an elderly disabled couple who parked in a parents with prams space for there were no disabled ones left and they were left an abusive not on their windshield. Not ok.

    And it’s annoying because there is nothing I can do to enforce this. Just like (also in a parking lot) if you have your indicator on to go into a space first, the space is yours, but there’s nothing to stop another person coming in and taking it. It’s not like you can get out of your car and demand they move.

    I hate the unenforceable rule!

    • http://tamsinhowse.com/blog Tamsin Howse

      Actually, I think disabled parking is enforceable by law, it’s only Parents With Prams (and Hybrid) that isn’t. So if you do see that, report it to the centre!

    • Detachable Princess

      Don’t lump all us parents into the disabled-parking-space-stealers, though. I, for one, am always horrified to see a car with no sticker in a blue space – doesn’t matter if it’s a parent or not.

  • Linzi

    I am not one to break rules. It’s one of my characteristics that I don’t really like because it boils down to the fact that I rarely take risks. How boring! It also means that I can get all bent out of shape if I see someone breaking a rule/guideline/convention that makes our society a civil place…like queue jumping or giving way.

    One thing I’ve learnt is to decide whether or not it matters if that person is breaking that rule. Does it matter if someone who doesn’t have a disabled permit parks in the disabled park? Definitely. Does it matter if someone who doesn’t have a pram parks in the parking with prams area? Not really. As someone with a small child and a pram I couldn’t care less who parks there because, well, I’m parking in the Hybrid parking space! And no, I don’t have a hybrid car. I just think that it’s total B to the S that such a parking space exists! It’s incredibly elitist and I will continue to park there in protest. I mean, how are Hybrid car drivers so disadvantaged that parking further away from the entrance could be such an inconvenience? Some “rules” really are rubbish.

    One thing that I do find irksome is where, say a business or organisation has a rule such as ‘first in first served’ or ‘fill in this form’ or whatever that allows the business to run smoothly, to be fair to all their customers, and someone comes along and suggests that they deserve special consideration because their situation is so very different to everyone else’s when it really isn’t. I don’t mind people asking if the rules can be broken for them, because sometimes they really honestly do need help, but I think it’s selfish when it is demanded and expected to the point of rudeness.

    When it comes to rule breaking and rule breakers, I say pick your battles.

  • Karen

    Interesting post, T! I’m a real Rules person. Love rules, love obeying them … as long as it’s convenient, of course!

    The rules you’re writing about though, are what I’d call ‘manners’. Manners (rules) are funny creatures. They exist only because we want them to, and they tend to become elastic depending on the circumstances.

    I have a tendency to see these things through my Mum goggles. I’ve always taught my kids to forget all the finicky rules of etiquette. There is only one rule of Manners we need to learn: Manners is doing what makes other people feel comfortable.

    It means that no matter where you are or what you’re doing, just consider the people around you and make their day go a bit smoother. Seems simple, no?

  • Detachable Princess

    I’m about 50/50 on this one. If it’s an actual rule, with a good reason behind it, I’m all for it. But if the rule is stupid, I have no problem breaking it.

    Our local Coles recently got refurbished, and instead of having entry at each end they closed off all the unused registers and you could only get into the supermarket through one end. The opposite end from which I park the car and walk a bloody long way and get through. So, I have no problem lifting the barrier over the unused checkout and getting in at the end that I want to, because the rule is stupid.