Should we follow rules without question?

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When thinking about the national and state governments responses to COVID-19 in Australia, a fundamental pillar was to act quickly without question. This saw authorities shut down a majority of businesses, force people to work from home and mandate mask usage. Although this was effective in flattening the curve, it was also effective for depicting just how far Australians will go to follow the rules.

There’s always been the notion that Australians are laid-back larrikins that love a beer and good time. From Ned Kelly to Shane Warne, it would seem Australians love a rebellious non-conformer. Yet, the 2019 Australia Talks survey found Australians are less likely to behave like these icons. This survey of more than 50,0000 Australians found Respecting Laws and Institutions was a fundamental element of what it means to be Australian.

This Australian-ism is most prominent in a time of crisis. Our leaders present themselves at press conferences, scolding the population like naughty children when we do the wrong thing and shouting praise for our obedience when we do the right thing. The feeling of appreciation rushes through our bodies like an energy drink.

The rush of endorphins following the rules provides, although pleasurable, causes us to conform without really questioning it. Our leaders say jump, so we pull out the proverbial springboard (how high!). Of course, this is except for a rebellious few, whose scepticism often results in earning the title of a conspiracy theorist or extremist. Although governments often create rules with the interest of the population at heart, are we wrong to never question what authorities ask of us?

Adults teach children to question everything; from why the sky is blue to why people have to die. For adults themselves, it’s not as easy. This is the result of greater long-held assumptions of the world and particularly for adult women, who don’t want to be a nuisance. These skewed world views and fear of being judged often only result in us making assumptions about things we don’t fully understand. Questioning eliminates these assumptions and makes room for the bigger picture. Being able to ask authorities why something is happening leads to a broader conversation, which is vital in ensuring our societies rules and regulations benefit everyone.

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Of course, this raises the question, can a balance be struck between conforming to the rules and questioning them?

In short, it can. Rules which work to oppress, marginalise or have no benefit in society warrant some questioning. Questioning these rules allows rational debate, fairer outcomes and is a fundamental element of a democracy. Mask mandates which are scientifically proven to protect both yourself and others, are probably not something to question and resist.

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