During an idle evening ‘thinking session’, I stumbled upon a solution to one of the most perplexing questions I have had for some time now. Having grown up in an environment with limited restrictions, it was always a learning experience for me to understand that the laws of the country and the laws of the society differ by a large margin, and something being permitted by the former does not mean it is not forbidden by the latter.
With that out of the way, I have also always wondered why just because something is forbidden, the very idea of breaking the rules and doing it becomes a hundred fold more attractive. There is also the lingering feeling that forbidding or banning something is the fastest way to make sure the preconceived rules are broken, and the spirit breaks free of the restraints. Pun intended. But in that haste to prove something to someone, the question of want or need is increasingly being ignored.
In a society of capitalist consumerism, whether we like it or not, as consumers, what we want or need, or must have, or must avoid is decided more by a few conglomerates and sealed by WhatsApp forwards that begin with “Attension!!! MUST READ!!!” followed by fifteen ‘warning symbols’ for emphasis. A precious few things are left to choice, and even those choices are being eroded for a totally different reason.
Trivial, personal things are also up to scrutiny, and most are looked down upon as practices in general, but wholeheartedly accepted individually. Even with the strange appealing powers of the temptation of all that is forbidden (is that how human psychology terms it?), it practically makes no sense to succumb to it just for the sake of it.
There is a huge difference between doing something just because it is forbidden, and you want to oppose an entity, and doing something because it is your right and you wanted to.
The concept of opposing an existing authority or flouting an arbitrary set of rules, far from being termed liberalism, stems from a deep rooted human need to prove a point. The Cause is identified, the Cause is taken up, the Cause is supported, the Cause is popularised, the Movement gains traction, and… it is overdone. There is no single war in history that was not fought for longer than necessary, and the same goes for Causes.
While there is the concept of flouting rules, it is no longer termed as a personal choice. Rather than saying the rules are not agreeable to an individual, because of personal reasons, the rules themselves are maligned, twisted and shamed. And those who ‘follow’ it are boring, prudish and backward.
Zoning in on this particular attitude, I accidentally stumbled upon why flouting rules has become an increasingly fanciful thing to do. The ‘in’ thing, if you will. It all goes back to the subpar primary school education, and I am hearing the distant echo of my English language classes from high school. The simple act of asking permission. The exasperated voice of my teacher as she attempted to explain the difference.
Can relates to ability, may relates to permission. You can do a lot of things, but you may do only those that are permitted. Use ‘may’ in those cases. Like when you want to ask, ‘May I enter the classroom?’, ‘May I go for a break?’ Instead of using ‘can’, the right word to use is ‘may’, when the intent is to ask for permission.
So the rules that are set down, mentioning why one ‘can or cannot do’ something directly appeal to that part of human nature that decides one’s ability, rather than the aspect of permission. And when it comes to the question of ability, is there any other way than proving that you very well ‘can’?
This is why the next time I see someone who flouts a rule for the sake of it or because it is the in thing, instead of really wanting to for personal reasons, I would wonder about peer pressure, the need for social media validation, the power of consumerist advertisement, and the direct appeal of rules to human ability instead of human docility. Note: This applies to self, too.