Not all rules are made equal. Some rules, like the speed limit, are broken by everyone and their mother, and are enforced (mostly) when people are breaking them to a dangerous point. Other rules, like “don’t murder people”, are enforced far more. Why is that?

Different Rules, Different Tools

Rules for Rules

Rules should be justified. If a sign on a fish tank says, PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH GLASS, do you think most people, especially children, are likely to obey? Does your answer change if the sign were to say PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH GLASS, IT SCARES THE FISH?

Additionally, there shouldn’t be too many rules, even if they are justified. The more rules in place, the less likely people will follow them. Just think about it: If Moses received 206 commandments, do you think his followers would view Thou shalt not eat meat and dairy with the same level of respect as Thou shalt not kill? More rules can imply that there are strict guidelines to be followed, but people will interpret them as: Whoever came up with this must be fun at parties. Unnecessary rules draw attention away from the important ones.

Wrapping Up Rules

I’m no rule expert. Nevertheless, I recognize that creating and selectively enforcing rules is a valuable skill, for both policy-makers and policy-enforcers alike. If you want people to respect your rules, make sure they have a reason for being there.