Rules: Made to be obeyed, or made to be broken?

Can a line be drawn between soft rules and hard rules?

Recently my wife, a close male friend and I visited a licensed club here in Sydney, of which club we were all members. I had driven into the basement car park, and as was usual, we entered the lift to go into the premises. A prominent sign emphasised the need to stop at reception on the second floor and present your membership card prior to proceeding to the other areas of the club. Whilst conscious that it would be no problem to proceed immediately to the upper floor, as was our practice, I pressed the button for reception.

This brought on comment from my friend as to why I would bother with this diversion to abide by the rules and not simply just go directly into the club. This somewhat surprised me as this person, whilst of similar vintage as myself, an ex-banker and of good social standing, obviously did not consider it necessary to abide by this club rule. The incident triggered my awareness of other examples of breaches of social rules, and some minor laws, which raised this question in my mind and caused me to contemplate the behavioural changes happening in today’s society.

Living in an eight story apartment block, the need to bring one’s rubbish down to the ground floor disposal area is a regular happening. The usual array of bins, some 10 in total, to dispose of the wide variety of material we throw away these days, and colour identified to convey the message of which is the correct receptacle, stand ready to receive according to the implied rules.

So what happens?

Rubbish ends up in the bin for bottles and plastic articles; cardboard boxes that are supposed to be broken up and put in the appropriate bin are left on the top to be flattened by … ?; wine bottles are put into the bin in cloth bags, not for recycling, and so on. One could continue but I am sure you get the message. This behaviour is not a serious matter in the outcome it creates, however two things are telling about it.

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For one, it becomes necessary for someone else to do the right thing and correct the mess or error that has been made.

It also provides a good insight into the mindset of the persons not following the building’s rules and the obvious fact that these persons just do not care.

Whilst these two examples are somewhat mundane in relation to our everyday lives, perhaps this example is of some serious concern involving breaking rules.

A recent headline in The Australian newspaper read “Cheating is par for the course for some students”. The article then reported a survey involving 15,000 students and 1,200 staff from eight universities and four colleges had found that at least six per cent of students engage in some form of cheating. For a University with 35,000 students, that would mean 2,100 are cheating. That is a lot of what would be mostly young people breaking the rules, and it was engineers to be who led the list of those admitting to these cheating behaviours.

What might this mean for engineering projects of the future?

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There are many more examples one could give of people breaking the rules. We all do in some ways, of course, none of us are perfect and there are lots of rules today, both social and legal, but in the end is it the degree of seriousness of the act or the number of times one is breaking the rules that need considering.

Does a pattern of non-serious breaches constitute the beginning of a mindset that smoothes the transition to more serious breaches?

What seems to be happening more and more is the increasingly serious and aggressive behaviour of people participating in public demonstrations. On occasions in the past, some demonstrations did become violent, especially those linked to union campaigns, but now the trend is from more radical groups. How much is this linked to a past behaviour of breaking simple rules?

Do you agree with Brian that rule breaking is becoming a normalised behaviour?