It happened again last night! I chafed at the rules . . . yet again!
We’ve become a rules-driven society. And, in my opinion, it’s often hurting us.
It may be our only option most of the time. But those other times when we get to live by principles, not rules, it’s so refreshing!
Rules are typically enacted to enforce principles we’ve established to order society. But as soon as a rule is established, it yields several consequences that immediately diminish its value.
One is that the rule must then be enforced broadly and evenly, even when its enforcement seems to make little sense. Grey areas are eliminated; you either follow the rule or you don’t. Sometimes the result contravenes the principle it was established to uphold.
The second is that creative types find ways to take advantage of the rules—push their edges–to implement initiatives that violate the principle but still adhere to the letter of the rule (because a rule can’t address every unique circumstance). Had the principle been maintained without the rule (by social pressure, for instance), then the transgression of the principle might have been avoided.
If you think about it long enough, you can probably come up with a thousand examples. At least, I can. (One that grates me the most is zoning by-laws.)
Here’s the one that got me going last night on my evening walk. I approached an intersection, major in one direction, minor in the other, at which there was a light and a walk signal. Such things are put into place (I assume) to facilitate (the principle of) safe and efficient traffic flow.
I was on the secondary street, needing to cross the major one. With the current slowdown, there was no traffic on the major one; I could easily have crossed safely. But I dutifully pressed the walk signal and waited for the light to give me permission to cross.
Just as the light was changing, a tractor-trailer unit came barrelling down the major street, jake-brake on, as he approached the now amber light, attempting to come to a screeching stop as my walk signal invited me to begin crossing. I was just a mite nervous as I stepped onto the roadway, he not yet fully stopped. Thankfully, he came to a stop in time, and I was safe.
I significantly disrupted traffic, I wasted both mine and the truck driver’s time, and I created a neighbourhood disturbance by pressing that button. Had I simply ignored the signal and crossed immediately, this could all have been avoided. Safe and efficient flow of traffic was disrupted by the rule.
If we could all live by principles that support the common good of all, we’d all be in a happier place, it seems to me. But, that will never happen, partly because we don’t all agree on the best principles and partly because we just live too selfishly.
I realize it’s only a dream.
But we have a beautiful example playing out in our province right now, in the approach Bonnie Henry and our government have taken to the current pandemic.
BC was the first Canadian province hit with it. Some rules quickly came into place. But, by the time all was said and done, we had the fewest rules of any province—and yet among the best results. When Henry first started relaxing the rules they called it Stage 2.
Huh? (It was simply clever marketing.)
We never had some of the strict lock-downs other provinces did, that they had to relax in their stage ones. Instead, we were given principles to govern our conduct, and urged in a gentle, yet forceful manner, to follow them. So, for example, (unlike other provinces) retail outlets were never ordered closed, yet almost all of them closed simply because there were no customers and to protect their staff. Other examples could be cited, as well.
We were simply following the principles laid down and daily reminded of, by Henry.
Repeatedly, Henry refuses to lay down firm rules or enforcement procedures for those that do exist—sometimes to the chagrin of those who like to have more structure (witness the sometimes ridiculous media questions following her daily updates)–appealing instead to our sense of duty, both to ourselves and to one another. She refused, for example, to shut down beaches when the principles of physical distancing were blatantly ignored, appealing instead to more responsible behaviour going forward.
The approach is clearly working. BC is being held up as a gold standard around the world for our reaction to this crisis. Congratulate ourselves!
But especially congratulate Henry. She deserves the international praise she is receiving, including a major article in the New York Times. It may be partly her style, but it’s also her approach—to push the principles and avoid laying down the hammer.
Oh that we could live that may much more.
At least, that’s how I see it . . .
Wake me up!