What do “the rules” say about you?

5 ways we relate to rules-&-regulations, and 5 ways to evolve:

Community living—as in an HOA or other shared space—offers many opportunities for support, recreation, safety and fun.

And it also results in the necessity of rules and regulations to keep things running smoothly and harmoniously.

The psychology of rules—and of how we individually relate to them—is particularly interesting in our setting: an environment populated by folks who are at a mature stage of human development. We have lots of experience under our belts—some of it positive—some of it not—and this experience informs how we engage with a community’s rules, and with each other.

Generally, we fall into one of five categories of rule-followers. Can you find yourself on the list below? It’s important to understand where we might be on this list, and then to consider how we can become more balanced—and more understanding of our neighbors, especially of those who fit into the categories that are very different than our own.

  • THE FOLLOWER: Whatever the rules say, the follower does–no questions asked. They would never dream of stepping outside the confines of the regulations, and would be terribly, terribly embarrassed if anyone even thought they would—or if they accidentally did so. The follower will say things like, “We can’t do that,” as opposed to “Maybe we shouldn’t.” Breaking the rules simply is not an option for the follower.
  • THE NEGOTIATOR: If the rule makes sense to the negotiator, they’ll enthusiastically follow along. “After all, it just makes good sense,” they’ll say. Adding something like, “And I don’t mind. Am glad to be a team-player.” If, on the other hand, the rule somehow does not make sense to the negotiator, they will either ignore the rule, or find ways around it. If pushed, the negotiator will eventually comply, but that won’t be their first instinct unless the rule simply resonates from the start.
  • THE REBEL: Needing almost no introduction is the rebel. They might be a happy, life-of-the-party sort of person or the recluse behind the drawn shades—but the minute that enforcement is threatened, the rebel reacts, digging in their heels, absolutely ready to suffer nearly any consequence rather than oblige—or even appear to oblige. The rebel says things like, “I dare them to just try to enforce that rule,” or “What are they gonna do, sue me?” 
  • THE ENFORCER: The enforcer also needs no introduction—and they probably have the front-office and county-inspector on speed-dial. But there are three important things to note about the enforcer: 1) They likely suffer from what Dr. Jane Bolton calls “personal power leakage.” The enforcer, rightly or wrongly, has a sense that their personal power is weak or non-existent in other relationships, and therefore use the community’s rules as an opportunity to exercise power—and to feel powerful. 2) For other enforcers, it’s just a matter of not having much to do. Their personal theme song might be “It’s a Small World After All.” Little things appear very large when isolated. 3) The enforcer assumes that everyone else is a rebel at heart, and that even those who appear to be followers will eventually step out-of-line if the enforcer does not remain vigilant. “It’s a matter of principle,” they’ll insist, or “of safety,” and, “besides, it’s the rule!”
  • THE CHRONICALLY UNAWARE: No matter how many signs might be posted, or how many feathers might be ruffled, the chronically unaware (CU) function from a place of complete oblivion. “It’s Florida; it’s sunny; it’s all good.” The bane of the existence of both the enforcer and the follower, the CU don’t pay a dollar for donuts, they walk across the golf course, they have three cats, and they never stop at stop-signs, all while waving, smiling, and ready to chat.

If you’re not happy about the way you look on this list, here are five reflection-questions that might help you evolve:

  1. Which is more important: the letter-of-the-law or the spirit-of-the-rule?
  2. Why am I too-willing or so-unwilling to see a distinction between the two?
  3. Why am I reluctant to simply be the bigger person—and either let an infraction slide, or step into compliance, or to pay more attention?
  4. What can I do to help someone else today—rather than to remain so focused on (or so unaware of) my own surroundings?
  5. What are my top-five favorite things about living in Florida? (Mindfulness and gratitude make everything better—including ourselves.)

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