I believe that there’s one thing in particular that separates those of us who have lived a certain number of decades and the younger crowd. We were brought up with non-negotiable rules. Rules for behavior in public, rules for dating (basically, don’t do anything that even hints of sex), and rules for following rules. There was really only one rule for following rules: Do it.
I know there were a few rebels among us who defied the rules, whether it was talking back to a teacher or refusing to stand when the national anthem was playing. But they were people I considered a little scary. I may have been awed by their audacity, but how could they do that? In the 50s, we were sure the conformist gods would punish them—swiftly and harshly.
Once, at the end of my junior year in high school, a then-boyfriend talked me into cutting a study hall period on the last day of the school year. Study hall. Last day of school. It seemed to be a not-too-terrible infraction. But I was guilt-ridden and I remember it clearly today.
The “you will follow the rules” mentality has stayed with me. It’s not that I’ve never broken any rules. Believe me, I have…but this is not the time nor place to air out the occasional error of my ways. What bother me, as a product of my past, is those who just ignore simple common-sense rules.
Take, for example, my visits to the gym. The first thing I do, once I talk myself into walking away from TV shows and Boggle to work out, is spend 30 minutes on the track. Signs posted throughout the track area, in bold green and white, say “NO CELL PHONES.” I’ll often find at least one person gabbing and walking. They either can’t read (really?) or are so engrossed in this must-have conversation that they don’t see the signs. I hate to think that they have seen the signs and figure “They don’t mean me.”
There are three separate lanes on the track: one for walking, one for jogging, and one for running. (I still can’t figure out the difference between jogging and running, but that’s because I do neither.) Often there are groups of three friends walking slowly and talking, taking up two lanes. It forces me, when trying to get around them, to move over to the running lane, risking being run over by a runner (who’s obviously following the rules).
And staying with the track for one more whine: Before you enter the track, the sign, in large letters, states “No street shoes.” Yet as I’m briskly walking, I see so many sandals and other “outside” shoes! Do half the people disobey this rule?
Then there are the drivers who think the Rules of the Road booklet was created for ordinary people, not Their Highnessess. I do my best to follow every traffic rule. I even wait to get into a left-turn bay until I reach the beginning of the bay. I don’t drive over the median for half a block or cross the solid white line (unless it’s absolutely necessary…).
And turn signals? There are some of us who still use them. I can’t say for sure whether it’s only the younger generations who think that rule doesn’t apply to them, but I’ll bet most of us of a certain age signal their turns and lane changes.
History has shown that, sometimes, breaking the rules is justified, even necessary. One example is a protest and actions to correct rights violations. In such a case, I’m not sure how far I would go in joining a group that wanted to disobey peacefully (don’t most of them start out peacefully?). Sixty to seventy years of following rules is a long time…and maybe too old to be a rebel. I’m afraid our children and grandchildren would start checking out nursing homes. The kind with the locked wards.