Bound to Others, Broken in Script

by David King on February 7, 2013

Banksy The challenge in life is not to give into rules and regulations; to abide by some call of duty; or to follow script. We are not bound to such social devices. We are bound only to each other, and to the moment.

To give into this reality is the challenge.

I knew early on in life that I was someone who did not take well to rules. I was not a rebel by any means. In fact, detentions and grounding were uncharacteristic of my youth. At an early age, however, I was somehow confident that rules and regulations were in place for people unlike me.

Pretentious, perhaps. Self-righteous, probably. But I don’t care how it sounds. I don’t need to be told that stealing is wrong, or that it’s dangerous to speed through a school zone. No manslaughter? Got it. Public disturbance? Obviously not allowed. No smoking indoors? Makes sense, if respect for others means anything.

Despite the obvious nature of these examples, all rules and regulations have their contenders. This is why we need them, of course, just as some need the 10 Commandments to remind them of how shitty adultery and slander really are. Right.

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s all quite unnecessary – or should be. Even experiments with monkeys indicate that stealing, for example, is an inherited faux pas. Left to our own devices, are we really so incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong? Are we all really so incapable of empathy? Maybe some of us are, particularly in terms of our behavioural urges.

Yet my discomfort with rules and regulations extends further, to a point where laws become inadequate and social norms fit like straitjackets. Kohlberg’s post-conventional stages of moral development remind us that individual perspectives and universal ethics can always trump laws, or at least beg their reconsideration. At the lowest level of my discomfort is the perspective that laws should be ever evolving in order to reflect an ever evolving society. At the highest level, I recognize that life isn’t simple enough to fit into preconceived packages and programs of human behaviour. There are always exceptions, individual or contextual; there are always outliers. And sometimes, rules and regulations just plain suck (see Canada’s ban on blood donations from gay men, for example).

As social creatures, we are bound to one other – not by the hands of the system, but by our mere social nature. We are bound by loyalty and trust and respect and decency and love, palpable constructs that have real weight and substance, no matter their degree of abstraction.

If not on a social level, then we should strive to strip our personal experiences of rules and regulations – and of scripts and formulas – whenever possible, wherever practical, and at nearly all cost. We are bound only to each other, and to the moments in which these things called our lives play out. We must be who we are capable of being, nothing less. And we must strip our lives of the need to satisfy all formulaic expectations.

We are bound only to each other, and to the moment. To give into this reality is the challenge.

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