Messy Rules. They’re Awesome.

In Creative Thinking, Limiting Beliefs, Workspace Matters by Sonja

On my way in to the library the other day, I wondered what their food rules are, and whether I needed to smuggle in my water bottle. So I went looking for a sign with rules.

Rules on a window[At the local library, you can’t throw your stuff everywhere, get naked, or pop popcorn. This must be why children under 10 need to be supervised.]

And there it was: “Do not: Consume food or drink that creates a nuisance.”

Now this might seem like no big deal, sandwiched between typical “don’t smoke” and “don’t expose yourself” rules. But it caught me dead in my tracks.


This rule is entirely subjective.

And I love it.

Most of the time, people will try to create rules that cover all the bases. The goal is to avoid foods that create a nuisance. So, they try to define what that means, because then there is no confusion. No problems. So … liquids only in a closed container. But what kind of container? And what if they spill on the books? Let’s just say no fluids. For food, only foods that can’t make a mess. What does that mean? We don’t know – let’s just say no food at all, that’ll be easier. And then people (like me) are smuggling in their water bottles and their little bag of quiet Doritos (ah, that’s what those are for).

Instead, this library understands what people do in libraries. Library visitors often stay for hours, and will likely want to eat or drink while they’re here. This rule understands that, and simply explains what concern must be met – don’t create a nuisance. It leaves it to the people involved to figure out what behavior is causing a problem and what isn’t.

If that’s not awesome enough, this rule also trusts the employees. It gives them the leeway to declare that a persons eating behavior is causing a problem … or not. It allows for situational discretion. Maybe one day, someone’s loud chips in the middle of the quietest part of the room is driving people nuts. Maybe on another day, there’s no one around except a mom and kids in the children’s room and they brought chips for a snack. In one situation, the noise must be addressed. In another, it doesn’t.

It’s messy. It could be a bit harder (“I was in here the other day and the kids were eating chips!!”). But it’s also thoughtful, honest, trusting, and wise.

We could use more wise rules.


Do you have any rules you live by that are too strict? Rules that grew out of a fundamental value, but the rule doesn’t suit you anymore? If you think of one (or three) comment about it below, I’d love to hear from you.