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When Should We Follow the Rules? And When Should We Break Them?

photo: Chris Yarzab on flickr

photo: Chris Yarzab on flickr

Are you a rule follower?

Or are you one of those people who get a tiny thrill when you break a rule every now and then?

I’ve noticed that I seem to be surrounded by rebellious types. Maybe that’s because a majority of the folks I know have made a practice of going their own way, following the beat of their own drummer.

Many of my peeps also fall in the category of spiritual-not-religious, which also goes along with the whole non-conformist theme. Indeed, most spiritual-not-religious folks put more emphasis on doing something because it feels right to them, as opposed to doing things because someone else says it’s right.

Which brings me to the issue of following rules.

I admit it. I’m one of those who often strays from the accepted way of doing things. Indeed, I like to walk off the beaten path.

And I’m not just speaking metaphorically here.

I literally like to walk on dirt, on trails, in the wilderness.

photo: Stanislav Sedov on flickr

photo: Stanislav Sedov on flickr

I love being out in nature. I love seeing deer and turkeys and hawks and coyotes. I love breathing clean air and feeling the sun on my face.

I also love walking in a place that’s not crowded with people. The trail I walk has three types of travelers: 1) hikers, 2) mountain bikers, and 3) horses with riders.

Most days, I see a representative from one of these groups every ten minutes or so. Enough to keep things interesting, but not so often that the trail feels overwhelmed with company.

And what does this have to do with following rules?

Well, the trail I walk has rules about who yields to whom. Even though I’ve been hiking the trail for years now, I hadn’t ever seen these rules spelled out until recently.

Turns out that bikers are supposed to yield to horses and hikers, and hikers are supposed to yield to horses. Horses, they don’t yield. They’re horses!

photo:  Feliciano Guimarães on flickr

photo: Feliciano Guimarães on flickr

All these years, I’d been clueless about the trail rules. I’d been going along my merry way, yielding in a disorganized and haphazard fashion. I had no idea there was a right way to do it! God forbid I yield to a biker and not to a horse. I could get into serious trouble!

Even though I claimed that I’m a rule breaker, it’s also true that I can get totally neurotic somewhat attached to certain rules. That’s what happened in this case.

My adherence to the trail rules showed up most problematically with the mountain bikers.

For years, I’d been yielding to them. After all, they’re barreling down the hill with often-questionable control of their bicycle, only occasionally warning me that they are about to whip past me at warp speed.

I’d be crazy not to yield to them.

photo: Chauncey Davis on flickr

photo: Chauncey Davis on flickr

Or would I?

Now I’d been given contradictory information. Those high-speed wackos merry bikers were supposed to yield to me. Me.

There was only one problem with this.

No one was following this rule. Everyone was yielding to the wackos bikers.

Wrong! It was wrong!

And now that I knew it was wrong, it totally bothered me.

photo: deovolenti on flickr

photo: deovolenti on flickr

If I’d been wearing knickers on the trail, they would have been all twisted up in disdain and righteous indignation.

And then it happened. The day that my twisted knickers met the sharp slap of reality.

I was hiking down a hill one day when a man and his two sons, all on mountain bikes, passed me going downhill.

Did they yield to me?

No. They did not.

Indeed, one of the boys said “Excuse me,” as I stopped and moved out of the way, allowing him to pass.

Why doesn’t this guy teach his kids the rules of the trail?! They’re still young and impressionable! Why doesn’t he show them the right way to do things?

As the man and his kids rolled down the hill, I realized how crazy I’d become. Attempting to follow the rules was making me miserable.

I realized in that moment that I’d always yielded to mountain bikers because it makes sense to yield to them. They’re going at crazy speeds. Some of them have no idea what they’re doing. Those that do know what they’re doing are often going even faster.

photo: TJ Harron on flickr

photo: TJ Harron on flickr

Getting out of their way is an awesome idea.

I also remembered that sometimes there are reasons to break rules.

Most notably, when the rules are stupid.

Like, rules that say gay people can’t get married. Stupid rule. Or rules that say black people should sit at the back of the bus. Or have a harder time registering to vote. Stupid rules.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to figure out whether a rule makes sense or not. This involves paying attention. And being willing to go against the grain from time to time.

So now, when I’m walking the trail, I yield to the wackos mountain bikers.

It makes me happy. And it allows all my limbs to stay attached to my body.

Which comes in really handy when you’re walking in the wilderness.

photo: Bureau of Land Management on flickr

photo: Bureau of Land Management on flickr

When do you follow the rules? And when do you break them? Share your comments below!

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12 Responses to When Should We Follow the Rules? And When Should We Break Them?

  1. Sherry Vierra January 20, 2015 at 8:29 am #

    I love your post! I ride the trails and I too yield to bikers. More than once I have seen people hurt on a horse because a bike or even a hiker did not yield. I love the rule keepers! People don’t realize that horses are just giant bunnies. They are animals of prey and scared of everything. It takes hours of conditioning to get a horse to trust enough to carry us around on their back. They also have blind spots so a hiker can seem to appear out of nowhere. A horse does not know if the sound coming toward them is a hiker or a mountain lion. Lives are saved by yielding to a horse and speaking softly as you approach. It is good to understand the reasoning of rules even if we know they cannot be honored. I take my horse off trail when I see a bike coming, some thank me, some curse me, most just stare at the ground and keep going, I understand yielding is difficult. Politeness on the other hand is pretty easy. Maybe it needs to be posted as a rule!

    • Z Egloff January 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      Hi Sherry,

      I agree with you – politeness is the best rule. If everyone followed it, the world would be in better shape. Of course, we can’t always make other people be polite, but being polite even when other people aren’t being polite is also a good idea. Polite yields to horses and bikers AND hikers! :)

      Also, I love the characterization of horses as giant bunnies. I will never look at a horse the same way again.


  2. Michelle January 20, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    You are a wise sage dear one! I am a rule follower….most of the time….but I too yield for cars in a crosswalk, even when I have the signal and the right of way. My theory is if it’s bigger than me and really feels the need for speed…well, you know!

    • Z Egloff January 20, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Michelle,

      Yes – I like this as a motto, “If it’s bigger than me. . .” Sometimes we just have to go with what’s in front of us. Or what’s speeding past us!


  3. diane January 20, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Im always not following rules…I kind of just do my thong as long as it doesnt present a problem for anyone….
    I love reading ur posts..Sure wish I was in Ca. to come and hear ur music!

    • Z Egloff January 20, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

      Hi Diane,

      Doing your thing is always an awesome idea. Or your thang. Or your thong! Whatever works! :)


  4. Melissa Phillippe January 20, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    This was a new rule-breaking experience for me. R

    Recently, when Z and I were driving quite a distance on very windy roads, we broke the rules in a new way. How? We went WAY UNDER the posted speed limit! :-)

    We cruised along, eeking our way through the redwoods, pulling out into every little spot possible to let anyone at all behind us go by, so we could go VERY slowly! And you know what? NEITHER of us got car sick!!! That was a miracle….and certainly the first time I broke that rule (going UNDER the speed limit) to that degree.

    The magical side-note was that it was also surprisingly calming! In fact, the peace made me want to always drive at least a little under the speed limit or, dare I say, maybe even simply GO the speed limit…

    tee hee

    • Z Egloff January 27, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

      Yes, it was a fabulous experience!

      Occasionally, I wondered if we might get pulled over for being stoned, but we were not stoned! Just cruising along without the aid of drugs. It really was nice. And we ended up arriving home much less stressed than we would have had we been going above the speed limit.

  5. Tanya January 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    Argh, the “mountain biker vs. hiker trail” thing is a huge pet peeve of mine.

    I used to go on specific, local trail almost every single day; part of it was single track, and only for hikers.

    Often, bikers would come whizzing behind me, shouting that they were coming through.

    I NEVER yielded to them, first of all because I didn’t want to step in the grass and come face to ankle with a rattle snake, which was a real possibility in that area. I figured, if it’s so important to get down fast, they can go in the bushes and tall grass and risk snake / tick bites.

    Secondly, I really hated the aggressive dude-bros who biked this local trail and acted like it was built for them (it wasn’t). I took actual pleasure in making them follow behind me for the entire 1/4th mile hiking trail, fuming and irritated.

    Yes, I am pigheaded.

    • Z Egloff January 27, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

      Hey Tanya!

      Oooooooh – a trail just for hikers. I have not had the pleasure of hiking such a trail. If I ever do, though. I’m taking you with me! 😉


  6. Jo April 14, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    One of my favorite “rules” stories comes from childhood in Iowa. Out in the country, where I liked to hike with my dog, Meg, there was a small sign posted on a fence in the distance. Meg and I walked over to the sign which read, “Keep Off the Grass.” Wait… you had to walk on the grass to get close enough to read the sign. Rules often have their own built-in conundrums.

    • Z Egloff April 16, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      Hi Jo,

      Ha! This is great. I love it. What a great image. Paradoxical and bizarre. As are rules. Sometimes. :)


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