Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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The story in the news this week – about Eleanor Hawkins and friends stripping off in Malaysia – got me thinking about rules.
There are rules on all sorts of levels in our lives. There are laws of the land that are laid down by our governments and we are expected to abide by them – but of course laws vary from country to country, from state to state. And in the UK, there are still by-laws that are specific to certain areas. Laws are not universal, although today there is probably more commonality across countries than historically there has ever been, but there are still a lot of differences.
Laws are developed out of custom and practice, but the two do not necessarily match exactly. For example, “Middle lane hogging” is now illegal on UK motorways but (infuriatingly) people still do it. People resent being told they are not allowed to do something they have always done and some rebel. Our habits can be a stronger influence than the law.
Laws change over time, for various reasons. New technology (internet trading for example) can necessitate changes. So can changes in attitudes – for example to gay rights. Sometimes, changes are provoked by the people – by protest and demonstration. I like this quotation by George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Without protest, laws would be much slower to change.
Laws exist at all sorts of levels – all societies and sub-societies seem to have a need for them. Businesses, sports clubs, religious organisations, all have rules – even the Anarchist Federation has rules! And families, too, have rules. There are rules for children – about bedtimes, about homework – and rules for adults too – there are understandings about what is acceptable behaviour in the home, which may be significantly different to what others expect in their homes.
But perhaps the most important rules are the ones we make as individuals – and these are rules that are not written down, or stated clearly. Indeed, as individuals, we do not necessarily even know what our own rules are – though we will probably recognise it if someone breaks them. “You can’t do that!”. We have so many rules – about our personal space – about lateness – about how others should speak to us – about tidiness – about money. The list is never ending, and we are often aware of these rules only when someone else breaks them – our children, a new partner, a visiting friend.
Whatever the rules, we run risks if we fail to respect them – as Eleanor Hawkins and friends did. The Malaysians were offended when visitors came into their country and broke their rules. In our personal lives, we need others to respect our rules – spoken or unspoken, otherwise we too will be offended, hurt – even frightened and angry. The rules are there to protect us.