“If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones” - Winston (1984)
The question of the century...Were rules meant to be followed or broken? We have been told our whole lives, since we were little kids, that rules are undoubtedly meant to be followed. Don’t draw on the walls, don’t ruin your clothes, be nice to your friends and so on. But have we been disillusioned? To what extent are rules actually meant to be followed? Is there a way to measure this?
Rules were meant to be followed
Unquestionably there are about a million examples regarding why rules were meant to be followed. We often say that laws are the pillars of our society and the only thing keeping people from just savagely killing each other. Take The Purge for example, it is a movie based on the premise of an annual 24 hours in which all crimes are legal. Evidently it is marketed as a horror movie because one can only imagine the atrocities that people would commit if laws weren’t upheld.
Now for another filmic example we have the case of the “baby squillo”. If this name sounds familiar to you it might be because the first half is the name of Netflix’s 2018 show named “Baby”. As a matter of fact, the show was loosely based on a real Italian trial that took place in 2013 and 2014. The police had discovered a prostitution ring with two underage girls whose fake names were Angela and Agnese, their ages were 15 and 16 respectively. Impressively enough they were not the only ones who were charged as guilty as the mother of the younger one was found to be encouraging her career and taking advantage of it. Additionally, 50 notorious men were found to be having relations with these young girls. In this case the laws that were broken by all of these people were made for the sole purpose of protecting the girls from a life they should not have been involved in from such a young age. The infringement of these laws led to several emotional burdens, fines and jail time.
Rules are the ways in which we communicate with each other, in which we maintain discipline, it can even be said that they are the foundation for a more egalitarian society. So much so, that there are rules everywhere, even grammatical rules in the English language. If it weren’t for the set of predetermined rules in the English language or in any language for that sake, we wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other because we would all be abiding by our own rules. Of course, new words are always invented and therefore implemented into the language, but this doesn’t change the overall basis of its grammar. In the book 1984 written by George Orwell the new language of “speakeasy” is used to control its citizens. But in our current world language is the way in which we express ourselves, our thoughts and feelings. This could not be done without the rules implemented to make it universally understandable.
We often don't realize how useful rules are because we don’t see on a daily basis the catastrophic incidents that would happen if people didn’t follow the rules. For example, can you imagine how many car accidents there would be on a daily basis if nobody followed any of the traffic rules? Usually the reason why there still are so many accidents is because there are still a lot of people who do not follow these laws properly. However, it is certain that nobody would feel safe going out onto the streets if they knew that nobody was following the rules. Sometimes we question rules, and we find that they have no real meaning, but other times we come to the realization that they are in fact there to protect us and to serve us. After all, rules were made by the general “us”, by humans. We decided as a democracy that rules had to be put in place in order to avoid anarchy and chaos.
Rules were meant to be broken
Despite everything that has been previously stated, the stance that “rules were meant to be broken” is in fact quite a popular one. Why is that? First let’s start with the example of the book 1984 written by George Orwell. In Orwell’s 1984 the protagonist lives in a totalitarian society in which he is not allowed to have thoughts or feelings of his own. Additionally, all of his moves and everyone in the society are monitored by “big brother” the almighty power figure of the novel. The citizens are treated in an inhumane manner and forced into obedience through fear mechanisms and brainwashing. This book might be one of the best fictional examples to talk about why rules were meant to be broken.
The main character, Winston, obviously breaks the rules of this society, and there clearly isn’t any hostility coming from the reader when he comes to this decision. The main reason being that the rules were absolutely horrid and very ethically questionable. None of the rules were made for the well-being of the society, they were wholeheartedly made as a means for the government to maintain power. Thus, posing the question: ‘Behind what premises are rules meant to be followed?’ Because they are by our own judgement going to benefit ourselves and others, or because an authority figure says so, and they know best?
This leads nicely to the next example which is also a literary work titled “The Lottery” which was written by Shirley Jackson. It recounts the story of a town that has this gathering called “the lottery” where a lucky or rather unlucky person is chosen to get stoned to death. The most important and recurrent theme of this short story is the blind following of rules. This story questions to what extent we as a society follow rules without questioning if we should be following them and why we even are. In this way, this work of fiction blends in nicely with the prior as it exemplifies the dangers of following rules and/or norms without questioning them first. These works of fiction were not written purely for entertainment. They are in fact cautionary tales and reflections of the downfalls of our society.
Nonetheless, this argument would lose strength if it was purely based on works of fiction and literature. But rest assured that it is not. As aforementioned these works are just reflections of what is already going on in society. A perfect real life example for this rule is the North Korean dictatorship. Whilst the Dystopian distant futures we see in these texts are wholly petrifying and seem far off, they are not actually that distant from some of our realities. To this day there is still a dictatorship happening in the DPRK which has many parallels to 1984 and other works of Dystopian literature.
There are other everyday real life examples as to why rules were meant to be broken. Take school uniforms for example. Each school has its own individual set of rules regarding how they want their students to dress. However, the basing for these rules isn’t always the most progressive and can sometimes fall into antiquated notions of misogyny. That is why the boys from a UK school decided to protest against this and against gender norms by collectively wearing skirts to school. The boys at Exeter academy in ISCA were actually aiming for something as simple as the right to wear shorts during the heatwave. Their protests not only allowed them to revoke this rule but also to bring up questions regarding why certain toxic and unfair school dress code rules are still in place. Breaking the rules doesn’t always have to be acts of violence and the British schoolboys proved that with their exposed legs and liberating ideals.
Were rules meant to be followed or broken? What is the final verdict? After careful consideration of both sides of the story the overall conclusion of this argument is that in the loosest of terms “rules were made to be broken”. This evidently doesn’t mean that the whole state should turn into anarchy and that from here on out because you read this article you will no longer listen to any rule. It simply means that there is enough proof throughout the discourse of this discussion to acknowledge that rules should always be scrutinized and that rules only have value if their purpose is ethical. The Lottery perfectly exemplifies the dangers of following rules without second guessing them.
Artists like to say that “rules are there to be broken” because it is their violation of these rules that allows them to be extraordinary artists. They break the expectations of what other people expect them to be and simply are who they want to be. New ideas only arise from the demolition of old notions, so if it weren’t for the challenging of rules nothing new or improved that we enjoy now would have come into existence. On the other hand, it is also important to note that not everyone is granted the luxury of being able to break rules. As Winston in 1984 once said “The clever thing was to break the rules and stay alive all the same.” Many times breaking rules poses very real threats, ergo, why a lot of people are afraid to break them and why even those which are absurd stay in place.
To conclude, rules are only meant to be followed so long as they benefit yourself and others. The notion of rules having to be followed “because an authority figure said so” or because “they are rules” is an idea that should definitely be reconsidered because there is no strong basis for it and it can lead to catastrophic happenings like some of the ones listed above. In the end, rules were neither meant to be broken or followed...they were meant to be thought.
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