I’ve been a rule follower my entire life, and ironically it’s a character trait that hasn’t done me any favors. Sure, it’s kept me out of the principal’s office, jail, and rehab, and I’ve never worried about a scary phone call from my landlord, or the IRS, but weirdly, playing by the rules hasn’t always felt like the honorable thing to do. Being the good girl has made me feel bad about myself time and time again, mostly because the rule-breakers seem to be the ones who often actually rule.
As a little girl, I’d sometimes be ridiculed by my own family for being overly cautious about rules. I remember sighs, eye-rolls, and exasperated reactions when I’d voice my discomfort at whatever rule or law was being bent or broken (some small and inconsequential — say, sneaking into a hotel’s pool or hot tub late at night; some not so small — say, having to hold a vodka tonic for the driver). I could go into the myriad of reasons I’ve either consciously or unconsciously followed the rules and done everything I could to not rock the boat since I’ve been a child, but that’s for my memoir … and my therapist.
As I got older, being the good girl got tougher. Sure, I might have earned the expected monikers that were either spoken directly to my face or behind my back, but I didn’t like them. I hated being judged or looked down on because I was the one doing the right thing. In 1987 I was chosen “Biggest Goody-Goody” of our senior class — a class of like 500 kids, BTW — and I was mortified. The fact that I earned it alongside a guy who was not only pretty popular but one of my best friends — not to mention my all-consuming crush — didn’t alleviate my embarrassment. (And the fact that I have almost removed this paragraph 15 times in the past hour because I’m still too ashamed of the 33-year-old distinction tells you how I’m doing in therapy.)
Mortified at being called out for making the right choices; embarrassed for following the rules: It’s a conundrum I’ve lived with my entire life and one that has definitely bothered me and shaped much of my anxieties and self-worth. When did being good become bad? Why does always doing the right thing make other people feel like they can make you feel wrong about yourself?
COVID Rule Breakers
Being a rule follower right now in this time of COVID-19 is maddening. The feelings of frustration for those who aren’t following the rules are amplified and it’s infuriating to see the flagrant disregard for doing what is basic and right. But it’s the same old imbalance: How is it that, yet again, the ones who are wearing the masks, keeping their distance and staying away from group gatherings the ones who seem to be in the minority? How is it that, yet again, the rule-breakers are the ones who seem to be superior and without fault?
Lately (as in since summer began) my newsfeeds have been flooded with photos of people gathering for happy hours, BBQs, lake days, girls’ trips (yes, girls’ trips) and other festivities with others who are not in their household and with whom they have not been quarantining with. They are snuggled up close in photos, arms around each other like they’re at a sorority party or like it’s, oh I don’t know, 2019. At our cabin we’ve seen groups of big families gathering for bonfires and boat rides, parties and cookouts, all without masks. It’s like everyone thinks they’ll die if they don’t get to take part in their normal summer (oh, the irony). It’s as if they think their extended family and friends are somehow magically immune and masks and social distancing are unnecessary because we know them.
I’m dismayed and shocked when I open the comments under the posts and read things like, “looks like fun!” and “I’m so glad you all got together!” There are heart emojis and smiley faces and clapping hands in support of this blatantly irresponsible behavior. What’s interesting, however, are the comments that should be there but are missing, like “THIS IS WHY THERE IS STILL A PANDEMIC,” and “WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOUR MASKS?” and a string of red-faced emojis with a block of expletives covering their mouths, or what I’d like to comment with, just the skull and crossbones. (Interesting, sure, but hardly surprising. Rule followers, you see, don’t like to reveal themselves because of years of being ridiculed and labeled as sanctimonious, so we tend to clam up when pressed. It’s called self-preservation.)
What Is Wrong With These People?
Right now, however, I’m willing to risk the characterizations. While years of being chastised for being the good girl have silenced me and I haven’t (yet) called anyone out on social media or in person, I’m enraged and disappointed in the lack of basic human decency and responsibility so many people are showing (many of them my friends). I’m shocked by their ignorance and I’m saddened by their selfishness. And I’m confused. What is wrong with these people? In a time where following the rules is literally a life or death situation, why do they think they don’t have to? Why do they think their actions have no consequence? Is it because we live in a current society where individualism is favored over collectivism?
People don’t balk about wearing a seatbelt, a helmet, sunscreen, or a condom for protection, but a mask? That’s different. Wearing the seatbelt, the helmet or the condom protects the individual, but the mask’s purpose is not only to protect the individual but everyone around them, and somehow that’s a difference that violates their rights and is big enough for these people to take issue with. (And by these people I mean selfish people, obviously.) It’s a troubling realization.
My New Rule
So call me sanctimonious. Call me straight-laced or a goody-two-shoes, I don’t care; right now I’m ready to unleash on everyone, regardless of how close of a friend they are. And as for if it’s right to correct, berate, or shame these people, here’s my thought: if they can disrespect me and the global community and the health and well being of everyone around them, I have no problem disrespecting them for doing it.
Doesn’t sound like breaking a rule to me.