Breaking the rules for your own good

Jul 7th, 2012 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The whole of a track on the Crosby, Stills and Nash album had played and the traffic lights had not changed; a common occurrence when people are not prepared to disobey the road sign.

Twenty yards short of the traffic lights, there is a very narrow point in the street, a yellow box inhibits anyone pausing at that point for to do so would block the progress of oncoming traffic. Beyond the boundaries of the yellow box there is space for two cars to wait at the traffic lights. It would be a sensible piece of traffic management if the county council had not put a sign before the narrow point instructing that drivers should, ‘Proceed on green’. Law abiding drivers sit and wait and wait and wait for the traffic lights to turn green so that they might proceed. Of course, the lights never change because it is only when driving up to the lights that one crosses the sensors in the road that prompts the lights to change.

Blowing the horn did not prompt the driver at the front of the line to move forward; finally someone got out of their car and advised that it was necessary to ignore the sign if anyone was going to get anywhere. The car moved forward, across the yellow box and pulled up at the lights, which then changed and we all proceeded.

Obeying the rules can be an impediment to progress.  Adherence to the budget limits set down by the European Union will severely hamper Ireland’s capacity to recover from its economic crisis; a deficit outside that permissible will lead to a further round of cuts, a further contraction of the economy, and a further inability to stay within the rules.

Had there been adherence to ecclesiastical rules, we would still be buying indulgences and handing one tenth of our incomes to the church for it to store in whatever might be the 21st Century equivalent of a tithe barn. Only through wilful disobedience, was the Reformation possible; a Reformation that paved the way for the evolution of modern capitalism and a liberal, secular society which allows the individual freedoms now assumed to be normal.

Obeying the rules would have meant the name of Galileo would now be unknown; had he accepted the wisdom of  the bishops, how much longer would the medieval view of the universe have persisted? And not just Galileo, how many more scientists would have made the discoveries with which they are now associated if they had adhered to the laws, injunctions and conventions of their times?

The wisdom of childhood, that it is better to do what you are told, has often not been something that has served us well. If rules seem silly, absurd even, maybe it’s because they are.


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