Before I begin today, I need to set a little disclaimer that I am a law-abiding goody-two-shoes. I mean it. I am. Ask my family I even won my high school class award for it! I rarely do anything more significant than occasionally speed (okay, more than occasionally maybe). But aside from a few heavy-footed tickets, I’m clean. That said, I need to admit that the older I get, the more I think certain rules are just plain stupid … punitive and unnecessary.
I feel like some laws are made just to be mandates and too often edicts are spoken to exaggerate authority. I think Emerson had the right idea when he said, “A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us.” A few! Not a litany … not a handbook’s worth … a few. Sadly, in every facet of our lives, we are surrounded by much more than a few. How we file things, how we make claims, how or when we address whoever or whatever. There are even rules when we make orders.
Okay, so maybe I’m a little bit jaded right now. I just got off the phone with one of my favorite restaurants … Jimmy John’s. So, that place is supposed to be simple right? It’s quick, it’s easy–no mess, no worries. Except it’s not apparently. You see, my daughter doesn’t really like sandwiches, but she will eat a cheese sandwich. Recently, she’s added cucumber to her short list of sandwich-likes, so you can imagine we were pretty excited to accommodate her small palate. But can we just add cucumber to a cheese sandwich? No. Instead, according to Jimmy John’s, “Policy” you have to order a veggie sub and proceed to order off everything you don’t want on it as opposed to just adding the one thing. It has been a source of frustration, to say the least, but today was worse.
Today, I called in an order after soccer but before ballet to squeeze in something semi-healthy that wouldn’t ruin my somewhat clean kitchen. Calling, I ordered “easy cheese” on my sub (Who needs six pieces on one sandwich anyway?) and then added cheese to my son’s (as he only wants turkey and cheese, nothing more or less). I’ve gotten used to the little notes of, “We’ll have to charge you extra for this,” and “It is an up-charge if you want it like that.” Whatever. The annoying thing was, I gave the cashier my credit card number, she said they’d be ready and we hung up. About two minutes later, she called me back and this is how it went:
Her: “I’m sorry but I need your credit card number again. I forgot to charge you an extra dollar for the cheese you added to the turkey sandwich.”
Me: “A dollar?”
Her: “Yes. I am sorry for the mistake.”
Me: “Well, I took off three pieces of the cheese from my other sandwich, can’t you just put one of those on my son’s?”
Her: “No. Sorry. It is against our policy.”
Me: “So, even though you forgot, and we’re technically paying for cheese we aren’t going to eat, you can’t move it to my son’s sandwich and you need my credit card number again for a dollar.”
Her: “Yes. Sorry.”
But you know what? I don’t really think she was. I’m not saying that the poor girl didn’t have policies … but I felt like saying, “You’re really calling me over a dollar for your mistake!?!” I was flabbergasted to say the least and my lettuce-wrapped sandwich tasted just a little bit bitter. The thing is … it’s not the dollar, it’s the principle–the “policy” that bothers me, because who on earth would sit around and think up something as illogical as not being able to transfer a piece of cheese? How long is the sandwich-making handbook of amendments to the menu?
I wonder how many of us are subject to rules like these … little pin-pricks, paper-cut annoyances in our days that make them harder. Again, it isn’t that I don’t respect policies, procedures and laws, I just wish we’d focus our time on things that matter more! Don’t chew gum in class, for example, seems a lot less important to me than the bullying, belittling and biases going on. When looking into schools that where we wanted to send our son, I came across a list of rules longer than my college literature course text book. One of the billion said, “Male students will retain a hair length no longer than the collar of their shirt.” Immediately, I knew this was not the school for us, not because his hair was too long, but because that shouldn’t be their concern! As an educator, there are endless things we have to worry about: test scores, lexile reading levels, new standards, changing curriculum–comparatively speaking, call me crazy, but hair length doesn’t seem too high on the list. I know that rules are imposed to set order, but if you culture an atmosphere of respect, are that many rules really necessary?
I guess when I filter my feelings to the source, I just feel like I’ve begun to discover that rules are relative things. They are important, but humanity, fairness and truth matter more. If we nurture justice, if we honor that basic code of right and wrong that is within us, I have to wonder if they could be enough? William Blake once said, “ Jesus was all virtue, and acted on impulse, not rules.” One more reason His life, is one rule I proudly follow. What rules rule you?