Thursday, March 18, 2015, 4.10am: a nice man in his 50s sits in a mid-2000s Toyota Corolla at a red light on the corner of Wellesley St West and Hobson St. There are no other cars on the road. Nothing behind him, straight ahead, to the left or to the right. A kilometre clear visibility in every direction.
Yet he sits waiting at the lights for a full three minutes. Finally a green and he drives off. Watching on, it filled my heart with sadness. Valuable seconds of a life pissed away following rules for the sake of following them.
Recently I was involved in a public cricket-related fracas. A brouhaha that cost our Alternative Commentary Collective our accreditation. Trawling through the thousands of comments on the matter a saying kept popping up "rules are rules". Meaning if there is a rule you should follow it simply because it is a rule. I disagree.
Rules are just sentences made up by someone, somewhere. A better saying would be "rules are suggestions you take onboard if you agree with them". Same with laws.
Some rules/laws are great. The one about not murdering people is good. I love the rule about not punching strangers. Stealing isn't nice, it's a good idea to turn your car lights on at night and I don't support defrauding old ladies.
On the other hand smart people don't sit at traffic lights in the middle of the night when there are no other cars around. Why would you sacrifice three minutes of life to a rule? Use your brain. If there is no one around, go. Traffic lights were invented for busy times of the day. Don't be a slave to a torch. Red lights are merely a suggestion. A part of your lifelong conversation with society.
Why I was standing watching a man in a car at 4am is not important. The point is, don't follow rules or laws just because they exist.
Biographies of great people never have lines like: "He/she was a real rule follower. He/she did exactly what he/she was told. Didn't like to buck the trends."
In Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs he talks about the great man's silver Mercedes SL55 AMG. Jobs refused to have number plates on it. He thought they looked ugly so he just didn't have them. He saw a rule and decided it wasn't for him. You have to respect that.
"Rules may not be rules" but it is "nice to be nice". I tend to follow the "If it's brown, flush it down, if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule at other people's baches. As a visitor that's a reasonable request. However, if the rule was "Sit down and face the cistern while you're going", I wouldn't follow it, because that would be a stupid thing to ask of your guests.
As parents we enforce all kinds of crazy rules. "Dad chooses the TV channel", "Dad can swear but you can't" and "Children go to bed at 7.30".
My boys follow those rules because they are currently very small and completely under my control. One day they will think "Hang on, it's bloody light outside I'm not going to bed, this is BS". Rightly so. It's a stupidly early time to go to bed. If my kids are smart they'll eventually question everything I have told them.
Obviously if you go through life breaking every rule you will end up in jail. When deciding which laws to follow and which to break you have to factor the cops into the equation. Is it worth the risk? A huge percentage of New Zealanders decide that illegal downloading, smoking weed and public urination are worth the risk, robbing banks not so much. It's all about using your brain. Risk v reward.
We have such a short time on this planet. When we are gone we are gone, and in a blink of an eye no one remembers we were here. So if you find yourself sitting at a red light in the early hours of the morning. Don't waste valuable seconds of your existence following someone else's rule. They don't care about you. Take control, put your foot down, and get on with your life.