There are two ways to set up the rule making playing field.
- Everything not specifically prohibited is permitted, and
- Everything not specifically permitted is prohibited
Most people, if asked, would assume that the strategy of rule makers must be strategy 1.
Those people would be wrong
For rule makers, strategy one is difficult. There is no clear line between prohibited and not. Context must be frequently reviewed and conflicts are common. How long to respond to some new condition requiring prohibition is a challenge? What should happen when conditions contradict?
There are frequent examples. How high can you build your fence? Can you build a fence high enough to block your neighbours windows? Must you mow your lawn?
Times have changed.
At one time common sense and empathy were part of the solution and rule making was a cure for people being unreasonable. Today it is easier to make a horde of rules and enforce them as convenient.
Convenience usually lacks objectivity. People can have the rules interpreted to suit themselves if they know the right people or have enough money or influence. Convenience is corruptible. Common sense and empathy not so much.
Will they change back?
I doubt it. The process of prohibiting everything except …, is much easier. It gives both politicians and bureaucrats the ability to do favours. Favours are how you get elected and stay in your job.
Benefiting self is powerful motivation.
Life is complex
Not everyone wants unlimited choice, but most people don’t want tight rules either. The reality of life as expressed by Spencer Johnson is, “A change imposed is a change opposed.” It leads to every imposition is opposed, even reasonable ones.
For parents, governments, employers and teachers, the opposition can be minimized with fewer rules. Parents and teachers have long known that children have the time, energy and ability to oppose far longer than you can impose. So have fewer rules, but assertively care about the ones you keep.
Grant people some autonomy and guide them to new places.
When you choose the wrong strategic way
Rules lead to sometimes silly results when viewed through the common sense lens. Consider the Columbiana Ohio situation. Backyard gardens are nor specifically permitted so therefore, they are prohibited.
If your city outlawed gardens, would you be less than impressed? Maybe they have already done so.
Know what the rules mean as much as what they say. Pay attention to how you rule children and employees and even yourself.
Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario. In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.
Please be in touch if I can help you. firstname.lastname@example.org 866-285-7772