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?