Law and Culture

There are some people who think that law should not be prescriptive. They feel that when the law is too prescriptive, it reduces the boundary for people to act. I disagree.

A good set of law will set the tone and direction of an organisation. It allows people to know if they are doing something that is wrong and hence allow them the opportunity for them to align themselves to what the organisation wants to achieve. It has to be comprehensive because we want the management to be able to take action when necessary. If it is not written, you cannot fault me for not following. And how would I know if you are being biased? When you write it down, I would know it applies to everyone, and hence, fair.

What we need, however, is to know when to “break the law”.

Rules are meant to be broken?

Not exactly. Rules are meant to be followed, that is the exact reason why they are there. However, we need to understand that rules are made by humans and since humans are imperfect, I do not expect rules to be perfect as well. Hence, we need to understand, fundamentally what are we trying to achieve by having certain law in place. In exceptional cases, we need to be able to know when is a good time for us not to punish someone for breaking a rule and instead, even reward this person. For example, parking along a double zig-zag line is wrong. But if someone is laying on the ground wounded and I have no other place to park, after considering all my options and taking necessary care to prevent another accident from happening, I have decided to park it there. Would it be reasonable for me to be penalised for that? We all know the answer. Hence there should always be an appeal system. Not blindly sticking to the rule.

(Case in point, I wrote to NTU recently in regard to extending my leave of absence because of the circumstances that I am in and they replied that it is rejected because it is their policy. Isn’t that exactly why I wrote it? If it wasn’t their policy, an exception wouldn’t be necessary? Nonetheless, this is not a post on my personal matters. Sorry I digressed.)

Rules are not a silver bullet

However useful rules are, we need to understand that they are not a silver bullet. Rules are how we make people do something. Culture is how we make them want to do it. People have choices. And if you have a set of rules that has no buy-in from the crowd, you will have trouble enforcing it. And when you cannot enforce a rule, then what is the point of having it? We need to first set up a comprehensive and fair set of policies, then we need to educate and communicate with the ground on why are we having this set of rules. Along with feedback from the ground and mutual understanding, we can fine-tune it.

A flag is just a piece of coloured cloth. But we know that we should respect it. Not because of what it is, but because of what it symbolises. This is the same with rules. Once people understand what the rules symbolise, and the deeper meaning that goes behind a policy, they will be more disposed to follow it.

In conclusion, the rules are the framework and scaffold. The culture is the material that fills up the rest. Without a good set of rules and policies, the culture has nothing to hinge on. But with only the framework, what you now have, is a system full of holes and gaps, where people constantly find loopholes in the system. Only when you have the framework and the material working together, then can we achieve what we want to achieve as an organisation.

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