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Acceptable rule breaking

Asking for forgiveness rather than permission.


I brought up a point a little while ago about people seem to respect others more for doing wrong and apologising than those who haven’t done anything wrong in the first place. In a sense I find this somewhat analogous to the “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” idiom. Furthermore, there seems to be a level of “acceptable rule breaking” that people are willing to respect and which is maybe inherent in personal development.


“Need I remind you, 007, you have a licence to kill, not to break the traffic laws.” – Q

This isn’t about “acquiring” some stationery from work or going 10km/h over the speed limit. This isn’t about the perception (and evidence) of wealthy people being above the law. So what are you on about, Marty? Well, let’s start here…


Being able to forget your past, especially a less than desirable past, is generally of some benefit to the person doing the forgetting. Some psychologists suggest that the purpose of forgetting is to enable us to not be tormented by guilt, shame and past (in)decisions, and therefore be constantly negatively affected in our current mood states. Granted, some people never let us forget, but perhaps there is a good reason for this, one which we have not acknowledged and processed properly.


“Perhaps there is something we did wrong and we have yet to truly apologise for, and trying to forget about it is not the right course of action?”

Continuing on, I view it akin to those who claim to know, but get it wrong vs those who have doubts and no one listens to. Is it our desire for certainty? Maybe. Are we after comfort and security with our views? I think that is partly the case. It’s why people who are 100% certain or are unwilling to alter their perspective always have an audience – and perhaps more likely to have an audience than a person willing to entertain other perspectives and allow for nuance and complexity. Even if they get it wrong it’s still somehow okay. Even if they get it wrong they’re still “right”.


Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, through examining the story of Abraham, Isaac and God, discussed the idea of transcending the ethical with an absolute. In short, that the individual ‘knight of faith’ is superior to the universal (ethical). I find this similar to Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch, this notion of the higher-order purpose (with or without a God) that enables very specific people the ability to do (or at least pursue) what others do not or cannot. It’s a really complex and delicate moral area, and one which I think the majority of people today are too ethically lazy to undertake – Note: this is not me making a justification for or against Kierkegaard’s ‘knight of faith’ nor Nietzsche’s Übermensch.


“In Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment, Raskolnikov failed the acceptable rule breaking test.”

Let’s put it another way; if you’re prepared to go to prison for 25 years does that make murder acceptable? I would think it (still) doesn’t. If you don’t care about disrupting and ruining a family and marriage does that make coveting thy neighbour’s wife acceptable? Once again, I like to think not.


So what is it that people seem to respect about these acceptable rule breakers?

- It’s clearly not the perfectionism

- Is forgiveness a virtue and/or do people truly believe in a higher-order purpose?

- Do we view people who always defer to authority or ask for permission as weak/poorly developed?

- Righteousness is context dependent


I’ll save elaborating on this final point until an upcoming discussion, however, skilled musicians are acceptable rule breakers, but after mastery of their chosen instrument as doing it before is just noise. There is this mastery by the rules followed by transgression which is liberating, just the transgressing is utterly terrible. I’ll leave you with that thought.

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