Rules are not actually “meant to be broken”… that’s a just a nonsensical way to justify stupid behaviour without wanting to take responsibility. But then again, some rules are stupid — like, genuinely ridiculous… and as I’ve written before (on May 16th, in fact), I have a big problem with people justifying nonsense to me with “that’s just the way it is”. We’d all still be living in caves if that’s how everyone thought.
There are people who “question everything” — and they’re typically insufferable jerks, because apparently they know better… about everything. There are people who aren’t too good at critical thinking, and might believe anything. Don’t try to argue with those people. And… there are people who are both. Just stay away.
There are people, and I’m one of them, who do question a lot… not because, just for fun, I want to be an oppositional jerk… but because if I see a much better way of doing something, I just can’t sit around and let it be. And if there’s a rule that makes no sense to me, yeah… I might break it. Which often leads to an argument with someone whose only fallback position is “because that’s the rule”. I will always defend my opinion, but it can be frustrating.
I was about to write about numerous examples where some version of this is the relevant point… but everything that comes to mind seems to do with airport security. So let’s talk about that. There’s plenty to dig into with that particular example.
I used to have a little screwdriver on my keychain… and when I say little, I mean for eyeglasses. The pointy part was less than 1cm long, and went into a tiny handle. The bottom part of the handle was threaded, so it screwed into the base, which was attached to my keychain. The whole thing was not much bigger than a medicine capsule.
What’s that, asked the TSA guy… I showed him. “You can’t take screwdrivers onto the plane, sir.”
“You’re kidding, that’s hardly a screwdriver.”
“Sorry, that’s the rule”.
“Come on, how can this be considered dangerous?”
“Sorry sir, you’ll have to dispose of it.”
This was a $5 trinket, not the end of the world… but what was further annoying was what else was on the same keychain, including a sort of multipurpose skeleton-looking key which is a flat screwdriver, a bottle opener, a saw, a nail file, a tiny ruler… and a few other things. But it looked like a key, so it was ok. Zero critical thinking.
One time I got stopped “randomly” just as I was boarding the plane, pulled over at that spot where the duty-free hand-off takes place. The guy searched everything…. “Why me?” I asked. “Nothing personal”, he said… “totally random, I just pick every 4ᵗʰ person”. I didn’t feel like getting into an argument with him about how that’s possibly, by definition, the least random way of doing it… I could’ve argued that for a long time, but I’m not sure he would’ve understood it. And anyway, the longer I stood there, the less chance the overheard bin above my seat would still be free. That’d be a total disaster.
There are a few airports in the world where, when you land… here’s how it works. You fill out a customs landing card and simply hand it to the guy. Then, there is this magic gate… with a big red button. You go through one by one and hit the button, and when you do, one of two lights turns on. Green — off you go. Red — search everything. Standing and watching it, it became apparent that it is indeed pretty random. It averaged red about one in five, but there were streaks of green that ran from 3 to 7. One thing that never happened was two reds in a row, and a lot of people had figured that out… so rather than a proper lineup, it was more a cluster of people about to go through who suddenly had to check their phones or make sure the suitcase was properly locked or whatever… but as soon as someone buzzed red, they’d jump into the lineup to be next. OK, I get it.
Unfortunately, one particular time… landing in San José, Costa Rica… I was late, in a foul mood and just wanted to get the hell out of there. Monsoon rains, bumpy landing, dark skies, brutal humidity. Just get me out of here. And to make it a bit worse, so distracted was I by my bad mood that I messed up the approach to the magic gate and wound up 5th behind someone who’d just landed on the lucky red. Dammit. It’s just one of these days. Guy 4 ahead of me, green. Next person, green. Green. Green. My turn….. BzZzZZZzzz. Red. Of course.
“F!@# this BS” was my thought, and I played the stupid gringo card. I obliviously pretended it was green and headed in that direction.
“Señor.” I head somewhere behind me. I kept walking.
“Señor!” — louder but more distant. I was walking quickly.
“SEÑOR!!” — I was at the sliding glass doors and walked through them. My ride was parked exactly where he was supposed to be. I ran, threw my suitcase and myself into the car and yelled at my friend.
“Just GO! And take the long way.”
The long way is a windy side-street way of going from the airport to where we were going. In that weather and how I was feeling, it was awful. And though I doubt they threw up any roadblocks for us, who knows. If they did… “Oh, I’m so sorry, mucho perdon, yo no hablo el Spanish, how much pay dinero por favor?!” I wouldn’t try that around here, but in places where rules make no sense, $20 goes a long way in clarifying them.
I’m not here to tell you to break the rules; I’m telling you to think for yourselves. This isn’t a call to anarchy, just a request to think about things that don’t make sense to you, and speak up. Question what doesn’t make sense because society needs that… it’s a critical part of evolving society to the next level. We can’t all just go along with what’s worked for the last 200 years because if we do, that’s how it’ll look for the next 200. People wonder what they can do to make a real change? Start here — question stupid rules. Get people talking about them, and when enough people do, maybe real change happens.