The Roads of Ruleville
Ruleville, Ch. 1
In the town of Ruleville, they had rules for everything. Some were good and useful, and the People of Ruleville were happy to comply. Others were leftover from the first King of Ruleville many-many decades ago. The People of Ruleville often broke these rules and if they got caught, they were punished.
One day, the Roads of Ruleville Committee had a meeting. They had lots of decisions to make, because the town of Ruleville was expanding. They just added a new intersection, 36th and Broadway. Things were moving along great as they discussed all the rules that applied to the new intersection when suddenly Billy, the youngest member of the Committee raised his hand.
“Pardon me, wise Masters of the Roads of Ruleville. I’ve heard about this New Rule that we should do away with rules and switch to expectations instead.”
The Masters of the Roads were naturally taken aback by such talk. Ruleville without rules? How would that work? But they were sensible people and didn’t want to seem old-fashioned, either, so they allowed Billy to speak more on the matter.
“You see, an expectation is a strong belief that something will happen. If we just all believe that the People of Ruleville will stop at the intersection, we can skip installing the stop signs, we can forget about monitoring who breaks the rule of stopping — and no more fees and fines and punishments to keep track of.
The Masters sure hated cutting out all those octagons — triangles were so much easier! They liked the idea of not having to constantly look over everyone’s shoulder to make sure they were doing the right thing. And they always welcomed any idea that cut down on administration and follow up!
So they all agreed to believe. Billy was the biggest believer of them all. He told everyone about the exciting news of opening the intersection that has no stop signs.
Some of the people of Ruleville were skeptical. They told Billy to think about all those people traveling on 36th and running into the traffic on Broadway. But Billy said,
“Why, surely everyone knows how busy Broadway is — anyone traveling on 36th certainly has enough experience to stop!”
Some other people of Ruleville were worried about travelers on Broadway unwittingly hitting the ones crossing from the new 36th, getting injured themselves. But Billy said,
“Why, surely the People of Ruleville can imagine what would happen to the travelers on 36th, so they would stop and look, to make sure they don’t hit anyone!”
By the time Billy finished talking, no one thought that the People of Ruleville were not experienced enough to travel sensibly on 36th Street and no one thought that the People of Ruleville were not empathetic enough to travel sensibly on Broadway.
It was the first Monday after Regulation Day, the biggest holiday in Ruleville, that they opened the new intersection. At noon, the first traveler on 36th arrived, remembered how busy Broadway is at 24th, concluded that it is probably just as busy at 36th, and stopped. When his bright blue crossover safely made a right turn onto Broadway, the Masters of the Roads of Ruleville Committee cheered.
“No more octagons! No more fines and punishments! No more follow up!”
It was a little concerning that the travelers on Broadway didn’t even slow down, but who could blame them? It wasn’t that they were not empathetic to those on 36th, they simply couldn’t see them from the bank on one corner and the hospital on the other.
At 2 pm, everything still seemed fine. Then at five minutes after three, a red SUV with a Funville license plate arrived, coming south on 36th. It span around when the truck going west on Broadway hit the back left side, shattering the tail light. Then the car disappeared among the eastbound traffic before the Masters could shout, “Billy!!!”
Shouting Billy’s name was useless, however — he had already left the convenience of the pavilion the Masters used to watch the traffic at 36th and Broadway. He was calling the ambulance, directing traffic, and comforting the kids who were understandably scared after what just happened. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, and the insurance companies were already transferring the mandatory, immediate “assistance in case of inconvenience” amount to the families involved. This was one good and useful rule, issued by King Rudolf himself, that everyone in Ruleville appreciated.
Meanwhile, the Masters cut out a few stop signs with speedy speed, and installed them on all four corners of the intersection.
To replace rules with expectations! How could we be so silly?, they thought, and couldn’t wait for the emergency Committee meeting to talk some sense into Billy’s head.
“I sincerely apologize, wise Masters, for the damage I have caused,” Billy started, and the Masters nodded, their anger turning to sadness and disappointment over what had happened.
“Let me remind you, however,” Billy continued, “of the seventh rule of King Rudolf. If you make a mistake, never throw out the whole idea — only the parts that didn’t work.”
“Not again!” the Masters said. Billy wanted to change things and they had all just seen what happens when things are changed. “The stop signs are staying in place at the new intersection, Billy. The idea has failed, the case is closed.”
Billy asked for just one more thing to say.
“Yes, Masters, I see the error of my ways and I have no intention of removing those stop signs. But what if we do away with the punishment? We could still save us the hassle of monitoring everyone’s behavior, and all the follow up that goes with fines and punishments.”
The Masters mulled this over. They gave it all some serious thought, because they wanted to avoid another accident, but no matter how hard they thought, they couldn’t find any harm in trying. The idea of not having to constantly watch whether the rule is kept, and then not having to bother with getting the people who broke the rule to pay their fine sounded really good. Maybe they could apply the same new rule of no punishment at every intersection in town eventually?! If only this experiment worked!
Of course, they didn’t go around telling everyone about this no-punishment rule; even Billy was unusually quiet in the next few days.
Everything seemed fine. The People of Ruleville dutifully stopped on 36th when they got to Broadway, and they dutifully stopped on Broadway when they arrived at 36th.
Then one day, Greg, a high-schooler with a brand new convertible he got for his birthday, posted a video on Rulebook, the town’s own social media platform.
“Look, guys, that’s me coming into town on 36th!”
The video showed him speeding up instead of stopping at Broadway, then dodging traffic as he crossed towards the hospital on the south side. The video ended with him laughing how he has never been caught doing this act. “The Masters of the Roads must be sleeping,” he said. “I challenge you all to cross without stopping — how many of us can get across before they wake up?”
The comments section was full of information about no one ever having seen cops at that intersection, and certainly no one being fined for a “rolling stop.”
The Masters were furious. They sentenced Billy to personally direct traffic at that intersection for the next five years and chose a new Committee member to replace him.
About this story
I started writing the Ruleville series when someone asked me to explain the differences between rules (punishments) and expectations (natural consequences) when it comes to parenting. The response turned into the first two chapters of a family’s life in Ruleville, a city where the biggest national holiday is “Regulation Day.”
Before marriage and kids, I started research on how the adult bilingual brain processes subordinate clauses, such as, “Mary Poppins assessed the personality of Jane and Michael with the measuring stick she pulled from her magic bag.” After the kids were born, my attention turned to the developing brain and parent-child communication.
I am a cognitive psychologist, a child psychology consultant, a family support specialist, and I write stories like this to put parenting situations in a different perspective, to make them easier to understand and more memorable, and to help with the discussion of related subjects. I manage Flywheel Parenting on Facebook and Slack.
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