I have a thing about rules. I'm not sure quite what my problem is, but I can't stand watching people break rules. Cutting in line. Speeding. Claiming unemployment when they make lots of money growing pot. Not paying taxes at all when they make a lot of money growing pot. Lying on their taxes, in general. I especially hate this one, because as a self-employed person I pay a lot in taxes, and when you’re a writer, it’s kind of hard to lie about personal expenses, because you just don’t have that many. Try putting “pens” on a Schedule C and see how far it gets you.
Those are all kind of big important rules. Rest assured, my hackles get up when people break small rules, too. I was in a coffee shop the other day that serves food, and a guy was eating a sandwich from another restaurant. I swear to God it was all I could do not to rip the thing out of his hands and throw it in the garbage. Another restaurant rule I believe was made to be followed: the one about no substitutions. I mean, if you say, hey, would it be a big deal if I got the potato salad instead of the cole slaw, and the waiter laughs and says, no big deal, OK, we can let you live, but when you’re like, could I get the sides for this entrée with the other entrée and the waiter politely tells you that’s not how things work around here and you start arguing with him? Ugh. If you wanted to eat whatever you wanted to eat, you could have stayed home and made it yourself. This is a restaurant. Not the Make-a-Wish Foundation for people who have nothing wrong with them other than they can’t follow rules.
I think it should be fairly obvious why I hate it when people break rules. Yes, part of it is that people who break rules are selfish. But that’s not the biggest part of it. It's because people who break rules think they are bad-asses. They think they are the only ones who have thought about these ingenious ways to get around the system.
They have this misguided notion that other people follow rules because they have no imagination and are therefore simply content to do what they are told. I suppose this sort of sentiment was reasonable back when dancing wasn’t allowed at some high school proms or when America was fighting the Vietnam War and breaking a rule meant moving to Canada instead of killing innocent people and being killed yourself. Well, I am here to tell you that ordering off the menu or telling the school district in your town that your kid actually lives with your sister across town does not come out of any counterculture tradition.
It is just plain rude, on the same moral level as stealing a parking place. Just as wrong, just as banal. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of kids and school, what’s this new thing of taking your kids out of school to go on vacation? Remember back when we were kids and you just went to school and that was that?
Anyway, I’d like to let the rule breakers out there know that the rest of us definitely think of ways to cut corners or to get what we want at the expense of others but then we generally remember this little thing called the Social Contract and we make do within its constraints.
The thing is, there are a lot of things going on right now that need to change. Like, say, income disparity, which is the worst it’s been since the 1920s. Related: the fact that employers expect employees to work longer hours and weekends without extra pay because they’re supposed to somehow have some insane loyalty to a place that is making someone who is so not them rich.
So, in defense of those line-cutting, tax-cheating, saying-your-kids-live-with-your-sister ways, I do kind of understand. It’s hard to get by these days without occasionally giving yourself an unfair advantage. And it’s also easy to feel like, hey, you deserve to take a few liberties, because after all, you work hard and are perhaps not properly compensated. But it’s important to remember that everyone is in the same boat, and when you take a little more for yourself, someone else is getting a little less. Additionally, if karma is actually real, you are screwed.