Rules were made to be broken
Everyone lives by rules; we all have a set guideline we like to stick to. For instance, some people live by arbitrary rules like, “You can’t use the first-class bathroom on a flight if you’re seated in coach”, or even premium economy – the first row after first class ends – even though the food and drinks cart will take 45 minutes to clear the aisle to make room for you to reach the bathroom (yes, this frustrates me.) Then there’s the shut-off-all-electronics-before-takeoff-and-landing rule, even though in reality it will take 20 minutes to taxi the runway, and I could have sent off two urgent emails in that time, which would ensure the responses would be waiting for me in my inbox upon landing (I spend a lot of time on planes.) Here’s my question, we have all these “rules”, but does anyone really think that these are the important ones to uphold?
Last winter Michael and I were in Gstaad, Switzerland. We were invited out for dinner one night, and because we are very particular eaters, we went online and checked out the restaurant where we were to dine (what did we ever do before the internet?) The restaurant was called La Fromagerie (The Cheesery); being dairy intolerant the name was all I needed to hear to lose my appetite altogether, so we decided to eat ahead of time, and drink our way through dinner – maybe with an umbrella in glass!
Table after table, plate after plate, diners dipped and soaked their pieces of filet, sirloin, bread and vegetables in the rich, creamy, intoxicating fondue. Wine flowed like water as the patrons laughed and talked, delighting in the fondue, their appetites almost insatiable while experiencing what looked like a gastronomical high. I sat in awe. The more they drank, the more cheese they seemed to consume, and the smell of cheese filled the restaurant. By the end of the night I had renamed the restaurant, and it will forever be remembered in my memory as The Stinky Cheese.
The experience in Gstaad reminds me of yet another food encounter. Again, we were guests at a friend’s country club to hear Jimmy Buffet. As it turned out, a cover band played. Everyone wore Hawaiian shirts (I guess that must have been the homage to Jimmy Buffet’s “Island Escapism” lifestyle) and everyone ate lobster like it was becoming extinct.
I find lobsters to be curious alien-looking creatures. It was fascinating watching people indulge on the King of Seafood, or perhaps the cockroach of the sea is more fitting (again, this is just my perspective) they’re… not very attractive. Armed with plastic bibs, lobster scissors, lobster crackers, metal seafood picks, melted butter and beer on tap, I watched as people ripped the claws and tails off the lobsters’ bodies. The outer shells cracked, snipped, and torn asunder to get to the juicy, succulent fleshy bits; people grunted and groaned as they did so – it almost looked like everyone was fighting with their food! It was amusing and fascinating.
Cheese fondue… lobster… what exactly do these two foods have in common? They are considered luxurious foods, we associate them with wealth and esteem, they have a certain grandeur, and yet we over-indulge ourselves mindlessly, unconsciously, without considering one thing: Why do we consider them acceptable things to eat? From a strictly health conscious point of view, they are highly unsatisfactory.
Did you know that the ancient Romans used communal toilets? No walls, no doors separating anyone, just a block of concrete with several holes on top and people using the amenity together as if it was as normal as breathing, or going to brunch. Can you imagine doing that in today’s world? Not quite, but it was the norm then.
What is normal? What society deems normal? How do they come into being? How do they change? And just because society says it’s normal does that mean we have to believe it’s okay? Do we have to live by society’s regulations?
I remember a night when my husband and I were leaving a concert at Yankee Stadium; we were totally trapped in gridlock – we hadn’t moved an inch in 15 minutes. My husband, being the curious problem solver that he is, got out of the car and walked ahead into the traffic to figure out what was going on. He noticed that there were ramps on each level, one leading to the right and one to the left, All the signs say TO EXIT KEEP RIGHT, but the ramp to the left leads to the exact same place… Robert Frost took the road less traveled, and we took the ramp to the left – it made all the difference! By being rule breakers and taking the left ramp, we made it to the bottom of the structure in about 3 minutes, while a hundred other cars waited obediently.
Maybe it’s because when we live by a set of rules, even the arbitrary ones, we feel better – sometimes. Rules provide a frame of reference, a guideline – they can help things make sense (some of them), but in defining what rules we choose to live by, do we accept societal rules without question? Or do we think critically about what is good for ourselves? Kabbalist Rav Berg said, “Don’t believe anything; question everything!”
What arbitrary life rules do you deem mandatory?
I prefer to live by the golden rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s the purpose of life, really. And all too often we forget. As we behave towards others, so too will happen to us; if we are present when others are in need, then we are heard when we are in need. This responsibility to each other, and the acceptance of this responsibility, is why we are in this world. The onus is on each and every one of us to change the world, but first we must change ourselves. By changing ourselves for the better, we can avert sadness, unnecessary pain, and strife. What rules make you a better person?
A friend of mine told his children, “You can be anything you want to be in this world, but there are only a few things you need to be…to be humble, love unconditionally and embrace the golden rule.” I think that’s the important one to live by.
THOUGHT TO ACTION:
Break an arbitrary rule today – free yourself up from what you feel you have to do and do the things that are necessary for you to do, and share your experience in the comment section.