To comply or not to comply

“The speed limit is 40!” I said out loud. “What’s wrong with people?”

“While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment.”

— Daniel H. Pink, American author, journalist and speech writer

“The speed limit is 40!” I said out loud. “What’s wrong with people?”

I was crossing a bridge that was under construction. Signs clearly informed drivers that the speed limit while passing workers was 40 km/h.

Another sign alerted drivers that speed fines doubled within the designated area.

I began to wonder why some people complied with posted speed limits while others ignored them completely.

Did these people in the last group perceive choice and consequence differently than me?

Did they see themselves as bound by a different set of rules?

I began to wonder if these renegades knew something that I didn’t.

Compliance refers to a response — specifically, abidance or obedience — made in reaction to a particular request.

We can choose to comply with laws, to comply with company guidelines, to comply with the established rules of right and wrong — or not.

Someone told me once that I was highly compliant. I thought I was being offered a compliment, but that was not the intent.

The individual told me that I appeared willing to accept whatever rules and regulations the company rolled out no matter how absurd they might be. At the time, I didn’t fully comprehend the comment. To my way of thinking, the company set out the expectations and — as they were signing my paycheque — I had no option but to comply if I wished to remain employed.

The person shook his head and sighed.

This upset me greatly, especially when he began referring to me as the obedient soldier. I had been taught since childhood to follow the rules — to do what was expected of me — and I seldom ever stepped outside boundaries once they had been firmly established.

In fact, I resented people who flouted the boundaries and did as they pleased. I thought of them as undisciplined renegades.

Many of us likely shared a similar upbringing where boundaries were strictly enforced and the consequence of colouring outside the lines was painful.

There were times when the lines seemed to shift or apply in different ways for different people and that created much stress and anxiety for me.

I wanted to stay within the boundaries of what was expected as it appeared the safest place to be. I began to anticipate the needs and demands of others, which placed me in the regrettable position of being a perpetual people pleaser.

To make matters worse, my perceptions were blurred by an obsessive, almost compulsive need for acceptance and approval.

I became convinced that the only way to achieve either was to follow the letter of the law — no exceptions. It was no wonder then that I preferred a structured work and home environment where rules were clear and boundaries well defined and upheld. It was easy to stay compliant.

Years later, when I began managing people in a business setting, I demanded compliance to all of my many rules and grew angry and frustrated when faced with opposition.

Over time, I realized that demanding compliance was not the best or most effective way to manage and motivate people. If we do not feel empowered we are more likely to feel constricted and less inclined to participate and share.

Feeling empowered (in whatever the situation) allows us to keep our objectivity and feel confident in standing up for what is right and appropriate. It also allows us to better manage expectations and respond appropriately.

Think about people you know, especially those at work. No doubt you have the upholders who are entirely compliant, the complainers who are only grudgingly compliant and the renegades who are always pushing the boundaries and demanding change.

I’m not suggesting that we discard our common sense and become belligerent, combative and non-compliant.

Rules are in place for a reason, but a strict adherence to rules without question can stifle creativity and eliminate opportunities for change and improvement.

The empowered individual is one who recognizes the difference between rational and irrational authority and has the wherewithal to comply when appropriate and stand up when necessary.

All of us are more motivated and energized in activities where we feel that we have genuine choice.

Our goal should not be to become submissive, obedient automatons but rather to nurture within ourselves an attitude of responsibility and self-discipline — to look for those opportunities to make realistic choices, offer feedback, respectfully question authority and to challenge the status quo.

When we exercise personal control within the parameters of compassion, empathy and responsibility, we often bring about deep change on both an internal and external level.

Like me, you may have been taught that obedience (compliance) is a virtue and disobedience a vice, but (as with many things) this is by no means an all-encompassing truth.

I read once that when someone demands blind obedience from you, it’s best to take a peek.

Don’t let your desire to be a good soldier stand in the way of offering an alternative or challenging an injustice.

Wise individuals will not blindly comply nor will they dismiss the potential consequences of non-compliance, believing the rules don’t apply to them. Instead, they will strive to see the big picture and make choices that are well considered and appropriate.

We are fortunate to live in a democratic society where we are free to express concerns and opinions. Living an enjoyable and empowered life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control.

It requires a balance: little compliance and a little engagement to ensure that we are moving forward and responding to all that life has to offer.

For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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