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On breaking the rules

Rules exist for a reason.

As soon as we’re born, we’re thrown into a world of structure and regularity.

Limits and borders. Patterns and schedules. Customs, conventions and regulations, ours is a reality of law and order.

Or so we are taught to believe.

Agree with them or not, our lives revolve around knowing and sticking to rules, and those who don’t are often looked down on, frowned upon and shunned.

Some of us find comfort in them: they reaffirm our positions in the world and provide certainty and safety.

We know what to expect, and what’s expected from us.

They govern our social reality and all the organised and structured associations we’re embedded in, large or small.

They tighten and straighten what is loose and crooked: they discipline, bring together, add density and consistency. They give us meaning, purpose and direction.

Just like any organism, organisations struggle to meet a fundamental evolutive principle: keeping themselves in existence at any cost. They develop what German philosopher Schopenhauer called a ‘will to live’.

As organisations grow, so do their policies and processes, compounding and expanding, often layered on top of the previous ones, becoming more and more bureaucratic.

Author Emily St John Mandel muses, "bureaucracy is an organism, and the prime goal of every organism is self-protection. Bureaucracy exists to protect itself."

In an attempt to survive at all cost, the red tape slows us down, makes us rigid and fixed, binding us until we can no longer move, talk, think. While everything around us changes, our organisation becomes unfit and maladapted.

The paradox is clear: the obsession with self-protection and survival chokes life and dooms it – while removing all joy in the process.

Freeing ourselves (and those around us) from the rule book allows us the time and space to breathe again, explore and experiment.

There’s no life where there’s no space for questioning, challenging and bending the rules.

In a way, rules are made to be broken.

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