“We need people who push boundaries, rather than retreat inside them.”

Tim Fargo, American author, entrepreneur and speaker

“What the hell?”

The approaching car driver tromped on his brakes so hard I thought I could hear the tires squeal. A cyclist had just shot through the intersection against the light. I could see the guy in the car was angry and yelling. I took a deep breath and turned the corner, heading north toward work. As I drove, I wondered if the cyclist had been so focused on getting to his destination that he had missed the changing of the light. I have tended to give people the benefit of the doubt at least once, but in this case, the benefit was undeserving.

“Oh, give me a break.”

The cyclist shot through another red light. I stepped on the gas to get a closer look. He was dressed in jeans and brown hoodie and no, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. To make matters worse, he was riding on the sidewalk dodging morning pedestrians on their way to work.

“Holy ….”

At the next intersection, he darted diagonally across the street. What was this guy doing? When a couple of drivers honked their horns, they received the “finger” in response.

Now I was angry, too. This was a blatant disregard for the rules of the road. I watched the cyclist whip down the sidewalk near a parkade and rapidly disappeared from sight.

I’ve heard it said that you could tell a lot about a person by what annoys them. I was annoyed by the bicycle’s rider – annoyed because he blatantly defied the rules of the road. I have often encouraged people to challenge the rules and take risks, but this was unacceptable.   

Have you ever met someone who demonstrated – by words, actions or both – a blatant disregard for the rules of good conduct? I would say the cyclist in the above-mentioned encounter qualifies. He seemed to have no regard for the welfare of motorists or pedestrians. Judging from his actions, he also seemed to have little regard for his wellbeing.

I have often declared that all things bring us self-awareness. If that is correct, then there is a lesson to be learned from the bike rider’s actions. His disregard for the rules and our response to it can teach us something about our perception of choice and consequence.

Most of us conduct our lives within a well-defined set of guidelines or boundaries. Indeed, society requires it of us as functioning participants. Laws have been enacted to keep us safe and accountable. Culturally, we have many decrees that apply to everything from religion to family dynamics. Some of us are more amenable to these guidelines than others.

I’ve taken many management courses over the years and one in particular dealt with the topic of compliance, “compliance” meaning the act of conforming, acquiescing or yielding to certain standards or expectations. The compliant individual might be considered co-operative, obedient or, to some, a conformist. Essentially, compliance means following the rules.

We learned about three types of employees in the workshop: the compliant, the grudgingly compliant, and the non-compliant. Understandably, the compliant employee was the preferred choice. Strategies were discussed to help move the grudgingly complaint individual into a state of compliance and encourage the non-compliant to seek new employment.

To me, it seems that there are two other categories: hyper-compliant and blatantly non-complaint. For much of my life, I was hyper-compliant. Once the rules or expectations were established and clarified, I would never challenge them. I know this tendency originated in my childhood where I wanted desperately to be perceived as worthy of love and approval, so much so that I became the perpetual people-pleaser. I fact, I despised people who (figuratively speaking) coloured outside the lines, and I insisted upon immediate retribution. Pretty unrealistic, eh?

When we live in a state of hyper-compliance, our perception of choice and consequence are skewed, and we perceive the effect of crossing the lines as dire. Though I preached about the importance of conformity, the fact was, I was afraid: terrified of conflict and confrontation, afraid of being disliked – of displeasing anyone – of being further invalidated as a person.

The blatantly non-compliant individual – living on the other end of the spectrum – has little or no thought of consequences and views them in a distant or diminished way. Someone told me once that “it’s all about crossing lines” and these individuals function in a state far removed from commonplace reality. They are also unlikely to accept responsibility for their actions.

Neither state is healthy or likely to contribute in a positive way to our life experience. If you’re reading this, it’s unlikely that you fit the category of blatantly non-compliant. However, it may be time to ponder the boundaries that confine you. I’m not suggesting you become a rule-breaker like the cyclist; that would be foolish, dangerous and disrespectful. I am telling you to look at how committed you are to following the rules and why. What is your prime motivator? Fear or love? If rules are too constricting, it’s like living a life in a stranglehold. Years ago, I decided to reassess my boundaries and start taking a few more calculated risks. Writing this column is a great example. Becoming a self-esteem advocate is another. I started to colour outside the lines, and you know what? My fear began to subside.

Perhaps American author and poet Maya Angelou said it best when she declared, “When you know better, you do better.”

There’s another adage that says you must know the rules before you can break them. If we can recognize the rules that bind us in an unhealthy or unproductive way, then we may find the courage to break them and begin living the life we were meant to live.

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