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In Rules We Trust

Value of a Rule Children make up rules for games they create with their peers and the idea of justice is incredibly important to children. Although they are unable to describe justice as an abstract idea, they are quick to point out when somebody has wronged them - and just as quick to demand something be done about it! When a group of children agree on a rule, enforcing that rule can become an incredibly important contest.

For example, one child will claim that another child did something that broke a rule. The child will demand justice be done while the other child might declare unfairness. This happens when the children value the broken rule because they expect that rule to be enforced. The value of a rule is, in this case, equal to the trust in that rule’s correctional enforcement.

In this article, we’ll be looking at how the value of a rule is applied with the following definitions:

Value of a Rule = Trust in Correctional Enforcement


Decrease in Trust in Correctional Enforcement = Decrease Value of a Rule

Belief in the Value of a Rule

Rules exist as statements of expected behaviors - Do and Do Not. The value of rules exist in the compliance of those rules. A belief in the value of a rule depends on the quantity and quality of compliance of those rules. To consider the quality and quantity of compliance from those subject to those rules must also consider the development of bias, circumstance, and purposeful manipulation of those rules. A range of value toward a rule is assigned through observations, experiences, and considerations. Therefore, a person’s belief in the value of a particular rule is rarely as simple as a decision of ‘do’ or ‘not do’. In fact, a belief is required to fluctuate, shift, and adapt in order to survive changing environments and develop circumstantial exceptions. It is this understanding behind a person’s belief in the value of a rule that can be lost if not intentionally developed with this understanding in mind.

Rules and Consequences

Children may come to believe that, without enforcement, a rule has no value. I’ve had conversations about this with my students over the years (upper-elementary and middle school). The general student consensus is that rules need to be followed in order to avoid “getting in trouble”. When I would bring up what would happen when rules aren’t followed, students are quick to offer a list of consequences they’ve observed or experienced. None of the consequences seem to associate with any rationale for why the rules exist in the first place. In fact, student input typically highlights a belief about why rules exist in relation to their own personal and social wants and needs. It seems to me as though their list of consequences symbolize a developed belief that outsources the responsibility of enforcing rules in order to satisfy what they want separate from what they may know the need (e.g. order and structure).

This affects students when they observe rules being broken within a circumstance that does not result in consequence. The circumstances may be misconstrued or misunderstood by students but will nonetheless affect how students value certain rules. When students than experience the same rules enforced, it can be no surprise that their frustration is directed toward the person enforcing rules they may no longer value.

In this case, students develop a belief that in certain circumstances, rules do not have consequences. Such broad statements can develop into beliefs based on the quantity and quality of rule compliance or enforcement. Therefore, it is not enough to have clearly defined laws and bi-laws that delineate and strengthen enforcement of set rules. It is equally important to have policies and procedures in place that help people develop a deeper understanding behind the intent of rules and consequences in relation to those rules’ benefits to more than the person receiving a consequence.

Contradicting Values and Prosperity

Occasionally, a person might refuse to accept that a rule has value or even dismiss such value because it either contradicts other rules they value or, as might also happen, believe the rule simply does not directly benefit them personally.

In such cases, it is not enough to address how such beliefs developed. It is likely more important to first consider what rules are by framing it with the following two questions:

(1) Is a rule created to punish other humans - is this what rules are for?

(2) Is a rule created to address a need, problem, or concern - is this what rules are for?

Discussion based on these two questions may result in a definition such as this one:

Rules are created...

by a group or a community of people...

seeking a defined prosperity (i.e. success)...

in ways that the group or community will recognize.

By defining prosperity and using that as the underlying motive for creating rules, a person refusing to accept or choosing to dismiss the value of a rule can reframe their understanding of rules in a way that connects what they define as being prosperous or successful and what others define as being prosperous or successful. This could potentially provide a context that is meaningful enough to allow for contradicting values to minimally co-exist.

Exceptions to a Rule

Exceptions are inevitable when creating rules. When a person does not follow a rule, it is likely due to an exception. There may be circumstances that make it impossible in that moment to follow a particular rule. A person’s implicit bias may be motivating a person to not follow a rule. Perhaps a rule is being purposefully manipulated to motivate someone else to break a rule. Whatever exception is being considered, the fact is that some circumstances do make it nearly impossible to follow a particular rule and that leniency can be expected when it comes to assigning a consequence.

The issue here is not that exceptions to rules exist and that rules are sometimes broken without consequence. The issue here is that rules that are broken may need to be framed as having a range of value that accounts for exceptions. For example, a person that is jaywalking across a small street may receive little to no punishment for breaking a rule banning jaywalking. However, a person that is jaywalking across a large multi-lane city street may be stopped by a police officer and cited because the risk to the many people impacted by a jaywalker being hit is higher than that of an accident on the smaller street with little to no traffic. The value of such a rule may have exceptions that are circumstantial and involve many different factors. It is the intended purpose of how the rule benefits more than the person receiving a consequence that must be instilled as a belief. Such a belief in that range of value for a rule is what people often miss when discussing rules and consequences.

As people observe jaywalkers not receiving a consequence, the value of that rule decreases. For a rule meant to discourage jaywalking, its value depends on the observation of consequences.

Value of a Rule = Trust in Correctional Enforcement

Developing Beliefs in the Value of Rules

When it comes to developing and enforcing rules, it is important to recognize the purpose of the rules in relation to the beliefs of those needing to abide by those rules. For a group of people that generally do not observe rules being enforced when broken, the belief in the value of new rules will often be approached with indifference. The correctional enforcement of a rule might also prove unsuccessful if the belief in the value of the rule is not being instilled, resulting in disdain for the person enforcing the rule as opposed to acceptance of value in the rule. For such a group without a strong belief in the value of rules, context for various exceptions must be discussed in order for circumstantial ranges of a rule’s value to be consistently followed and benefits of rules accepted as valuable. If the only time rules are enforced in such a way is within a single environment, that group will learn to abide by those rules only within that environment. When the environment changes, it will be necessary to allow for that belief in the value of those rules to fluctuate, shift, and adapt in order to survive such a change in environment. As people develop this understanding of circumstantial exceptions, their understanding behind this developing belief in the value of rules can evolve into a broader world-view.

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