Monday, October 20, 2008

Don't tell me to follow the rules. Convince me why they exist.

I'm not a big fan of the random rule following. Those designed to protect the safety of myself or others... like laws... for the most part I'll follow - that's what keeps us civilized. But believe me, even those aren't steadfast! But rules that seem to exist arbitrarily even from the get-go, I want to know why.

I've had more than one run-in with an HR person over silly dress codes. And usually because of my questioning the rule, not only did I not have to follow the silly rule, others didn't either. I started working at Blockbuster Video as a part-time second job after college. Employees were to wear khaki pants or skirts, a light-blue dress shirt and tie. I'm not a boy. I don't wear ties and I don't wear button down-shirts. Those are boy clothes. So I got a shirt and I got a tie. I wore them both - but I wore the shirt unbuttoned over a colored cami and I wore the tie like a scarf. I was told be several people that I had to wear the tie. I replied that I was. Soon others stopped sporting their ties. Unbuttoning their collars and untucking their shirts. We relaxed the dress code to be much more practical for the job we were doing.

I also worked part-time at Kohl's. There we had to wear the equivalent of office casual. One hot and humid Iowa summer day I wore a cute sun-dress of an appropriate length and nice sandals. I was called out by the floor manager for not having pantyhose on. I was told I needed to purchase hosiery and put them on. First of all, it's hot, second of all, at that time my legs looked great in a skirt and sandals and thirdly - I was wearing open-toes sandals. Open-toed sandals and hose at a huge fashion mistake. Being a bit of a smart ass, and totally unwilling to wear something evil like pantyhose, when I went on break I I went to the children's department, bought a pair of lacey ankle socks, and put those on. Then I went to the breakroom, found a copy of the employee handbook, found the dress code which only said "appropriate hosiery" not that pantyhose or covering your legs was required... made photocopies, highlighted them and posted them on the wall. And stuck a copy in my pocket for when I ran into that floor manager back upstairs again. Most of the 20-something female staff went barelegged for the rest of that summer.

Good comes from questioning rules. Mary Tyler Moore told the producers of The Dick van Dyke show that she wanted to wear pants. Maybe if Lucille Ball had done that, my mom wouldn't have had to wear dresses to school in northern Minnesota in January. Maybe if my mom had told the bank she worked at in the 1980s that she wasn't going to wear high heels and hose, then I wouldn't have had to more than a decade later in a department store.

And if you can't even question rules on simple things like modernizing fashion, how will you ever question rules that really matter?

Like those in many churches. Sure, some are pretty harmless, the one we went to for Amy's wedding had a "no flash photography' rule. Why? It doesn't hurt for me to ask that. Maybe there are exceptions, or no one ever bothered to change it after it no longer applied. But others, like the rules that don't allow women to participate in certain roles in many churches. Valid at one time? Maybe. Valid now? No. But they still exist in too many places. We must step forward and assert that the time for the rules is long gone. One reason I am drawn to the church I now attend, is that while they are very conservative in many respects, they are also not afraid (sometimes) to question 'rules' that were most likely made arbitrarily by some man hundreds of years ago.

All that blind following, because that's the way it's always been done... leads to nothing good. Rules like who's allowed to drink from what water fountain or take a seat on a bus. Rules about who is allowed to marry and who is not. Rules about people of all genders and races getting equal pay for equal work. Rules about whether a woman has the right to decide her own right time to have a child. Rules that say if people don't agree with our religion, they shouldn't exist.

If you want me to follow your rules, you'll have to convince me why they exist.

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