Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Breaking the rules

HUMAN society runs on rules, some written, some unwritten but spoken, and some unwritten and unspoken but universally acknowledged. The written rules are official laws and regulations, like: "Thou shalt not kill." "Don't come to work drunk." "Further European colonization of the Americas will not be tolerated." Unwritten but spoken rules might be things like: "Dress nicely for a job interview." "Don't burn your dope supplier." "If you make snarky comments about your employer and fellow employees in your blog, they will fire you."

Unwritten/unspoken rules are more subtle. They're stuff that everyone knows, but almost no one talks about. They include things like "Say 'Hello' when you pick up the phone." "If someone beeps you, call them back." "If there's more than n sequential seconds of dead air in a conversation, say something." "Use a urinal that is two urinals away from the next guy's."

Society needs rules. Without them, trying to live with other humans would be something between the Tower of Babel, and a war. I think you can make a case that society is rules, that is, our social organization is just a bunch of rules, written or implicit, and human beings swing back and forth on them, in complicated rhythms and orbits, like objects hanging from an Alexander Calder mobile.

I don't think enough attention is paid to all the 'little' rules, the unspoken code which organizes our daily relations with other people.

Rules get broken in stressful times. Rules against killing other people, for example, are suspended in time of war, with respect to soldiers of the enemy nation. Little rules, like 'Let the other person in a conversation get his sentence out before replying' get broken  when one participant in a conversation is highly stressed, which may or may not be tolerated by the other person in the conversation, depending on whether he thinks the stressor is valid. (If someone has just learned of the death of a close relative, for example, he is generally forgiven breaking many ordinary rules of social behavior.)

The reason I've been thinking of this is that I've noticed that rules tend to get broken in the wee hours of the morning, for values of 'wee' from zero to four or five. I work nights, and I'm up at those bad hours, but almost no one else is, except my ER posse. Beeps don't get returned. People fall asleep in the middle of phone calls. Otherwise mild-mannered individuals snap at you. The lab loses specimens. The police drag in an unending stream of unfortunates who have fallen through the cracks of life. Life is difficult because all the little unspoken agreements between people that usually make your life flow relatively smoothly are only randomly functional.

3 a.m. is a dangerous time. It's the time when people who are seriously depressed experience 'early morning wakefulness'. They wake, are unable to go to sleep again, and lie awake, often tormented endlessly with guilt for perceived past transgressions, unable to escape from it. 3 a.m. is the time when the body's temperature reaches its lowest point, when blood pressure is the lowest. It's a time when things begin to fall apart, when laws break down, when Hobbes' War of All Against All seems very close. Most people don't realize this; they're asleep, as they should be. But those of us who are up, we know. The world has become less certain, a little more dangerous, a lot more difficult to traverse.

But then it's 4, then 5, then 6 a.m. Morning always comes. The body begins to warm up, the blood pressure and heart rate rise to normal levels, sunlight splashes through the windows, the world begins to seem not so bad a place after all. Day shift shows up with their cups of Starbucks and Wawa coffee and boxes of doughnuts, rested, well-scrubbed and perky, chattering about their kids or the weather, and everyone begins to obey the rules again. Until night comes once more.

We on the night shift, we are warriors at the edge of the world, where order begins to break down, and eternal chaos and Old Night nibble at the frayed edges of society.

kata(ru), kata(rau)
meaning: language, word, tell, speak, talk
Nihongo == Japanese language
monogatari == saga
Left radical is 'word', top right radical is 'five', and bottom right is 'mouth'. Henshall suggests remembering this kanji by: 'Five mouths speak many words'
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