Obey the Rules: Except when …

[May 17, 2022]  Obey the rules.  Be the best at following them.  Break the rules when doing so supports the central purpose of those rules.

There is an old principle in life that we should obey the rules of the game; moral rules, community morés, family customs, and laws and regulations of a judicial system.  Rules are most effective at pointing to what we believe of significant value.  Otherwise, why would we have rules?

Rules help create stability and predictability, improve efficiency, and build a safer place to work and play.  Rules protect the weak and generate a more level playing field on the social and economic front.  Be the best at following the rules; know what they are, why they exist, and why those rules function.

Find it within yourself to be an advocate and a cheerleader for rules and learn to improve upon them when reasonable, and you can muster agreement among others.  This act of following rules and refining and improving rules gains respect and admiration among the many in your group.

We know the people who are carefully and expertly following the rules.  These are the folks who are leaders and successful in our community, at church, in school, at the workplace, and on the field of sports.  We find them admirable and look to them as models of virtue.  We copy their rule-following, and who does not want to be the person who is upheld in the highest esteem by others?  We see people who follow the rules diligently as examples of decency and admiration.

Rule following is also a form of communication.  It tells us what is essential and of value; recklessness versus safety, bad manners versus good, immoral behavior versus honesty.  Follow the rules and be the best at following them.  You will be content in doing so, and you will be an upstanding member of your community.

But, there are times to break the rules.

True enough, we are suspicious of those who are drone-like in their subservience to rules as the highest of their moral virtues.  Rigid adherence to rules shows a lack of creativity, flexibility, and intellect.

Rules exist within a pecking order of rules, like the rules of playing a single baseball game, to be contrasted with the rules of the baseball season.  The latter, what we can call meta-rules (or rules about rules), embodies the central core of the game’s purpose.  These meta-rules represent a higher-order principle that overlays all other rules.

They say, for example, in baseball that you can win all the [individual] games but still lose the season victory pennant.  Know the meta-rules.  To know them requires a higher level of awareness and an expansion of your personality.  We all can implicitly understand this; even children appreciate it.  Kids know that if they win all the games, other children will stop playing with them.  The meta-rule is ‘play the game.’

Follow the rules, understand the rules, and be an advocate for the rules.  Do so except when following them means disregarding or ignoring higher principles the rules are meant to enforce.  Follow the rules, except when doing so undermines the central purpose of those same rules.


Please purchase my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Obey the Rules: Except when …

  1. Edward G.

    I never thought of disobeying the rules this way. You must first understand the rules, thoroughly and completely. Then, disobey them when you know that doing so means you are obeying the meta-rules.

  2. Cow Blue

    “Follow the rules and be the best at following them. You will be content in doing so, and you will be an upstanding member of your community.” Excellent advice. Too bad we tend to think we are more important and the rules don’t apply to us.

  3. Mikka Solarno

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for another top notch article.

    1. Doc Blackshear

      Yep, Mikka. I’ve been a huge fan of this website for nearly the entire time it’s been on line. I’ve seen the articles improve and Gen. Satterfield bring folks together (like in this leadership forum) for conversations and for pushing us to think better and act morally. That is critical as a leader. It makes us better people.

  4. 76 Wife

    ” Know the meta-rules.” Nailed it. Most of us, I believe, have no idea what the meta rules are. I do think, deep down, we do understand them, see comment on kids winning all the games and having no one to play with. But as we age, we seem to lose that instinct. The question is why. I’m not smart enough to answer that question but it deserves an answer.

  5. Marx and Groucho

    Breaking the rules (or the law or some regulation) requires a certain degree of maturity and mental understanding of what you’re doing. We all have that ability, as noted in Gen. Satterfield’s example of kids knowing they can’t win all the games and continue to play. I understand from psychologists who also study rats that the same thing happens. You’ve got to let others win occasionally.

    1. lydia truman

      Right, my daughter played softball one season. Her team lost every game. There were pretty bad, I will admit. But she never played again and will never again play softball (even for fun). Says something about the human psyche.

  6. Bobby Joe

    Kids know that if they win all the games, other children will stop playing with them. Got that right. Best example!

  7. Janna Faulkner

    I just wanted to remind folks here that you should go out and get Gen. Satterfield’s book on the War in Iraq. Well written and, wow, plenty of behind the scenes info. You get to see what really happened and not the whitewash you get from the so-called news media.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Right, Janna. Got my copy. Also, I will suggest you leave a review on Amazon. That why others will pick up on the fact this book with worthy of a read. It tells the stories of heroes.

      1. Kerry 6

        Thanks for the recommendations. That’s why I read the forums. ✔

  8. JT Patterson

    Excellent article. Made me THINK !!!!!! Well done!

  9. Laughing Monkey

    Once again, Gen. Satterfield nails it. I never really gave breaking the rules much thought “why.” I knew there were times when I needed to do it. But ‘why’ was not part of my thinking, just knew that it needed doing. Thanks for a great website.

    1. Pumpkin Spice

      Hi Laughing Monkey (love your ‘monkey’ moniker). You’re right and that is why, IMHO, that Gen. S. wrote this article. Break the rules — okay — but be sure you know why and what the results might be. There are the rule enforcers out there so beware.

  10. Fred Weber

    Hey everyone, let’s not forget that Memorial Day is coming up pretty fast here, Monday May 30th. Be at your community’s Memorial Day service. Be sure to thank a vet. Be sure to show your support. That is why ‘being there’ is so important. Show your face. Bring others with you. That’s how you show respect.

  11. Ronny Fisher

    Yeah, break the rules, you better know when. Gen. Satterfield, excellent article. 😊

      1. Goalie for Cal State

        Ha Ha…. you got that right old warrior. 👍👍👍👍👍

      2. Rides Alone

        Love the comment old warrior. Why don’t you write an article for Gen. Satterfield? I’m sure we would all love to read it. Plenty of hard-hitting words, I’m sure.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.