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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