Let us explore the saying: "Rules are made to be broken."
There are some rules that we hope will never be broken. Marital fidelity and certain safety rules come to mind. In those instances we want the rigidity of a rule and not simply a strong suggestion. That is, after all, the reason for the word "rule." Even the dictionary, however, puts in some weasel words. Note the definition from The American Heritage Dictionary:
- Governing power; authority.
- An authoritative direction for conduct or procedure.
- A usual or customary course of action or behavior.
- A statement that describes what is true in most cases.
- A standard method or procedure.
Okay, so we know there will be plenty of times when rules will have exceptions, perhaps even desirable ones. A characteristic of leadership can be a willingness to break rules to achieve the mission but if the exceptions overwhelm the rule, then there is no rule.
There is another aspect that is even more interesting. Sometimes, rules are expected to be broken but the rule serves as a speed bump or a filter so the exceptions do not become commonplace. Consider prohibitions against torture. Just as an honest person may lie to a terrorist, a person who loathes the very concept of torture may concede that there are extreme instances - such as the classic where a terrorist knows the location of a hidden nuclear weapon that will take out New York City in an hour - where torture may be justified. The fact that an important rule has exceptions does not mean that the rule is not important, In that role, a rule serves as a restraint and not as a rigid barrier.
And a restraint is not a minor thing. Civilization depends upon it.
But we also depend upon what is called "street justice."
That is the subject for another day.