5 Times When It’s OK to Break the Rules

by | October 24, 2012 at 1:43 PM | General

By Rachel Hennessey, Contributor

Rules – we’re all accustomed to living with them. They govern everything from the hospitals we were born in, to the homes we grew up in, to the schools we attend, to the jobs we hold.

Not even Ron Paul believes in doing away with rules altogether, but sometimes, it’s okay to break them.

After all, they’re human-designed and therefore imperfect. The key? Knowing when to do so.

Here are 5 situations when you can get away with breaking the rules:

1. When Supporting a Cause You Believe in
Someone who stands up for a cause or conviction can be regarded as a hero, a rebel or sometimes both. Take 12-year-old Michael Jestes, for example. Several members of the Jestes family dyed their hair pink earlier this month in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Jestes, who has two aunts currently battling the disease, had no intention of offending anyone when he broke his school’s “no hair dye” rule. The incident landed him in-school suspension and national attention. Although Jestes’ mother ultimately decided to shave his head so he could go back to school without jeopardizing his grades, his short-lived but bold gesture had impact, raising questions about first amendment rights.

2. When Dating
Trying to follow every rule in the dating handbook will surely drive you into trouble. We all have our own opinions about how to approach romance and when you jumble everyone’s advice together, the contradictions abound.

Examples of clashing dating guidelines that will confuse you:

  • “Play hard to get” versus “Show the person how much you like him/her”
  • “Just be yourself” versus “Be mysterious”
  • “Don’t be too forward” versus “Make the first move”
  • “Stop trying so hard” versus “Put in more effort”
  • “Don’t date coworkers” versus “You won’t meet Mr./Ms. Right at a bar. I met my spouse at work.”

A disclaimer that should precede all dating 101 tips: “You’re going to have to break some of these rules.”

3. When Not Breaking a Rule Will Cause Someone Embarrassment
To mind one’s manners usually means not getting too personal with coworkers or acquaintances. But can there be exceptions? Let’s say the woman who sits in the cubicle next to you at work walks into the office with a button undone. It’s better to cross that awkward line and inform her, rather than let her unknowingly humiliate herself in front of clients only to go home at night and say “I wish someone had told me!”

The food-in-teeth dilemma, smudged lipstick syndrome, missing-a-belt-loop quandary and sliding toupee misfortune are similar predicaments. In such situations, we have to look deeply within ourselves and decide if compromising our manners might be worth it for the sake of another person. The deciding question: “Would I want someone to tell me?”

4. When Someone’s Safety/Health is at Risk
Ever been minding your own business on the highway when another car whips past you on the right? The only acceptable excuse for such rule-breaking is if that car’s occupants would be in more danger if the driver didn’t speed (i.e. they are in a rush to get to a hospital). So, if your son just broke a bone or if your wife is in labor, you may be able to justify aggressive driving. But if you’re late for work or in a rush to empty your bladder, please hold tight!

Perhaps you need a snack to get your mind off of the speeder who just passed you on the right. You pull up to the grocery store, walk in, and are already presented with a moral dilemma. Can you open the plastic container just to give those strawberries a quick examine before purchasing? It may not be allowed, but who wants to eat moldy berries? After all, if the store has held up its half of the bargain by keeping its produce fresh, you’ll buy them anyway. Break the rule and save your stomach.

5. When Writing
Grade school children who struggle in English class, rejoice! Writing can be more lenient than the textbooks suggest. This is not to say we should throw grammar out the window and start mixing up “there” with “they’re” with “their,” but if readers will be able to clearly understand the message you’re trying to get across, abiding by every single rule isn’t crucial.

Understand the proper way to write and then find your own style. Begin a sentence with “because” or “but” now and then. Write run-on sentences like Joyce or strikingly simple ones like Hemingway. Use colloquial vocabulary like Salinger that Microsoft Word will tell you doesn’t exist in the English language. Writing can be many things – a way to record information, a means of communication, a creative outlet or everything at once. Sometimes what you want to express just isn’t textbook-sanctioned, and that’s quite all right. Ya feel me?

The late American poet/professor Oliver Wendell Holmes may have said it best: “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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