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Breaking rules - good or bad?

“Look, that's why there's rules, understand? So that you think before you break 'em.” Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

We have just been issued a new set of rules for lockdown. And when I looked at the 5km radius for us - we can't go more than 5km - I noted that one of our sons and family are just out of reach. Which doesn't prevent us meeting halfway I have to say. We can't visit their house anyway - we can only meet in the open and even then with no more than five people total. So I think I might organise a walk in the park with them soon.

My husband was not pleased and humphed that they were only just outside the 5km and that we were only two people over the 5 people limit as well. He's a bit of a rule breaker in lots of ways - and my sons are too. Me - I'm timid and law abiding, because fundamentally I believe that the law is mostly for our own good. But I do think that there are probably two kinds of rules. Those formal rule structures that ensure a functional society and those that are informal - sometimes necessary sometimes not.

Over eons human societies have formulated rules and laws for the functioning of their group - usually based on some kind of moral code, or more negatively from a desire for power by the strong. From the really big - 'Thou shalt not kill' to the seemingly trivial 'Thou shalt not run a red light'. Over time some of the moral precepts change - we only have to look at the status of women to see how that can change over time and the civil rights movement in America. And generally in such cases the law of the country is readjusted to accommodate those changes - or there is revolution. Ditto for the small things - well red lights were not in widespread use until the early 20th century.

But lots of those new rules were established because people broke the pre-existing ones and protested until the laws were changed. Or, as I said, in extreme cases until there was revolution and an enforced change. So change is the result of people breaking rules.

When I looked on the net for suitable quotes for this post I found the majority were in favour of breaking the rules, but then they were mostly talking about artists of some kind, with, of course, as we all know, the greatest of artists breaking the most rules. But they needed the rules to learn first.

"Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." Pablo Picasso

"It is a good idea to obey all the rules when you're young just so you'll have the strength to break them when you're old." Mark Twain

They are not talking about rules that ensure we live safe and functional lives though. They are just talking about creativity.

And food is such a good example of the pros and cons of breaking the rules. You need to learn the rules of how long to cook something and on how high and what kind of heat. And when it comes to baking there are endless rules you need to know. Baking is a much more exact science than cooking a stew. But where would we be today without the innovations and discoveries that have been made through the centuries by people who are willing to break the rules? The rules of cooking are not legislated of course. Or are they?

After all you cannot operate any kind of food business without complying with the current rules on hygiene and food safety. You cannot fish for certain species without abiding by the regulations on what you can fish for and how many. You cannot package food without following pretty strict rules on labelling. And so it goes.

I am talking about westernised societies of course - lots of other societies have different - or even no - rules. They develop over time and I suspect that there would be very few parts of the world where there is not some kind of rule about food safety and what and how you eat. Taboo after all - is a kind of rule too.

So as with just about everything in life it's a matter of balance. Learn the rules, and then as the late great Terry Pratchett says, think about them before you break them. Consider why they are there and then whether you really do need to break them.

And maybe it's Ok to have one extra person in your family group meeting, but not five or six. It's alright to add salt to caramel but probably not alright to add bacon to chocolate. But then you never know - maybe Heston Blumenthal and the like might be able to conjure something amazing from that too.


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