Can Too Many Rules Bring Out the Bully in Some People?

Joyce Shafer

Joyce Shafer

We rely on rules to prevent chaos, but o rules ever get in the way of what’s natural? Is chaos ever a good thing?

We resist and or fear both unnatural chaos (for good reason) and natural chaos (because we’ve been conditioned to), so we rely on policies and rules to ease individual and collective fears and, we usually hope, to smooth life’s path. How’s that really working so far? Can we go too far with this? Can chaos ever be a good thing? What if natural chaos actually contributes to desired improvement? Let’s see.

No-Rules School Has Remarkable Results

I read an article posted on a social site: “School ditches rules and loses bullies.” It was a fascinating and revealing account of an Auckland, New Zealand, school that, as part of a university experiment, got rid of the playground rulebook (and all rules, which was beyond what the experiment required) that had been created to do what you might expect such rules to do: protect children and property, and maintain order. The astonishing results of the no-rules experiment were there were fewer injuries, less vandalism, and a significant drop in bullying. Also, concentration levels in the classroom increased. Could this remarkable result also apply outside that school’s environment, for all of us?

Principal Bruce McLachlan said, “We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.” This return to what it was like before health and safety policies began to rule at the school led to the re-realization that the activities and fun children create when allowed to, without numerous restrictions, kept them so occupied and creative that the time-out area was no longer needed, nor were as many teachers required to keep watch. “The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.” The children were happy, and parents were happy because their children were happy.

The article went on to comment that a certain amount of risk-taking develops parts of the brain and develops the ability to work out consequences of actions. “You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV; they have to get out there.”

What People Revealed about No Rules and Them

Interestingly, the comments that resulted on the social site posting were equally revealing. One person was insistent (despite the proven results) that without rules, bullying would increase. The poster (both a mother and in the educational field) replied that children would learn consequences of actions and to defend themselves; and that in adulthood there is no teacher to run to. A replier to the poster’s comment stated that because he’d always had an adult to take care of everything for him when he was growing up, as an adult he doesn’t know what to do in certain circumstances. Another replier feared that children would be punished for standing up for or defending themselves, as had been her experience (which mimics what does happen in society at large: for example, a resident can be sued by a thief injured while breaking into the resident’s house).

The replier concerned about a potential (or, in his opinion, inevitable) increase in bullying wrote: “I get all that, but I think that no matter what, there would still be bullies. I know I, for one, would see this as an opportunity to be an even bigger bully. No rules? Then there would be more punishment for disobeying me. I’m not trying to say it’s a good thing, but I think it could lead to some not-so-good things.” The poster replied, “That’s the society we’ve become. You’re right. It’s kind of scary, not to mention that kids allowed to explore and make their own mistakes are often the ones that are inventors and the great thinkers. It would be a different world if we were allowed to just experience life, rather than just doing what we’re told.”

At this point, I added my two-cents-worth: Bullies happen—in the schoolyard and in the bigger world. They can legislate behavior all they want in both venues, but there will always be those with either the primary psychosis (from birth) or secondary psychosis (from conditioning), who act out as bullies. The only thing legislating behavior does is oppress those who don’t need the rules in the first place, those who know how to behave or who figure it out as they go—who figure out that they have a choice: find a way to co-exist as peacefully as possible or get into trouble. They can legislate behavior out the yin-yang, and it’ll still be the bullies who come out to “play” while all the others are following the rules—the unnecessary rules. It’s a matter of how much freedom will we give up because there are bullies in the schoolyard (or the global environment) who don’t play by anyone’s rules.

The Difference between Natural and Unnatural Chaos

Natural chaos and unnatural chaos spawn different experiences and outcomes because of the energy and motivation inherent in each. In the matter of Prohibition, a law put into effect in the U.S. in the 1920s and pushed for by those who wanted to control others’ personal choices, specifically alcohol consumption, the unnatural chaos created by the imposed rule resulted in an escalation in organized crime and other crime, violence, and imprisonment. In the matter of the school and playground experiment, the natural chaos created by removing the rules so children worked things out for themselves (within reason, as they were children) resulted in enhanced self-learning, self-modifying, creativity, harmony, productivity, conflict resolution, self-governing behavior, and focus and attention. Although the article didn’t mention this, it’s difficult to imagine that a boost in self-confidence and self-reliance was not also a result.

How much of the chaos happening in the world now is actually caused by more or certain rules or policies being added or remaining rather than going to the true root of the matter and addressing the individuals causing the real problems? It’s become the “norm” in society to treat symptoms rather than target the true cause, be it alcoholism or health or whatever. It’s also become the “norm” to make rules everyone must follow, not just those who actually need proper and effective attention. It’s like what sometimes happened when I was in school: one student misbehaved and the entire class was punished.

Are All Rules Reasonable or Rational?

We’re in a society that rewards people who follow the rules, even the nonsensical or infringing ones. The “rewards” are that they don’t get penalized; they get proverbial pats on the head; they get to feel superior to rule-breakers (or be envious, depending on the rules not followed). We have a profusion and confusion of rules, and the letter of the law tends to be followed rather than the spirit of the law. At a lower point on the gradient, specific utensils are to be arranged in a particular order and used as appropriate when you dine or you’re thought to be unsophisticated, low, less. At a middle point, stop signs at intersections are to encourage safety and avoid confusion; but if it’s three in the morning, no traffic anywhere, with clear visibility in all directions, and you slow or pause rather than stop, you could get a ticket because you broke a rule. At a more extreme point, something is legal in one county or state, but illegal in another; legal in one country, but illegal in another; immoral for individuals, but moral (or deemed acceptable) for those in positions of power. There are personal-choice decisions made for us that we should be responsible to make on our own.

If everyone everywhere learned and followed the moral compass to never steal or violate in any way the life, property, and security of anyone, and taught this to their children, what need of rules would there be? Who would need to create rules, and for what reason? The replier to the post about bullying believes the world would be an even more unsafe place without lots of rules and perhaps even more of them, then went on to explain why: because without them, he would be abusive or more abusive. During the experiment, I venture to say that any bullies who did attempt their behaviors with the children in the schoolyard were dealt with by the children.

For those who ignore moral right anyway, there is usually only one way to deal with or stop them: deterrents regarding their own well-being, to give them pause before they choose to exhibit such behaviors or to help them correct behaviors. This may sound harsh to some, but it’s akin to preventive healthcare. In the school experiment, it’s possible that several children stood together to oppose a bully who then backed down, or perhaps they refused to include any bully in activities and play, until the bully chose to behave better and did, and perhaps demonstrated a sincere desire to contribute in a productive way.

Who Are We At Our Core?

If some people never broke or ignored certain and, particularly, unnecessary rules, including academic; never thought outside of the creativity box; or colored outside the lines, we’d have a poverty of inventions, innovations, improvements, and cultural arts. We could, indeed, become better problem solvers than we currently are, individually and collectively. Natural chaos brings our attention to where problems or issues exist so we can resolve them in a beneficial way—or is supposed to. But so many, as with the replier, hold the belief that mankind in general, as individuals and as a collective, are incapable of controlling their behaviors and actions or of truly knowing and honoring the difference between moral right and wrong, so must have rules imposed on them/us. All we have to do is look around and realize this is not wholly true or accurate. Yes, there are those who seem not to possess a moral compass or would act against their moral compass, but they could be addressed individually, as needed. Their unnatural chaos tendencies could be managed. And if you think about it, those who do not follow a moral compass are outnumbered by those who do.

Natural chaos causes inventions and innovations to flourish, as has happened throughout history: We have no cause to fear it, but every reason to embrace it. As Plato said, “Necessity … the mother of invention.” Chaos is a teacher, including teaching us what not to do. Fear of chaos can lead to the death of imagination, and to the end of freedom, on a school playground or in daily life. Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither, and will lose both.”

The school experiment demonstrated the positive results of natural chaos and the freedom to address it that leads to better self-governing, personal responsibility, and improved creativity, productivity, and cooperation required for quality problem solving and as-peaceful-as-possible co-existence. The rules had, previously, created something of a mental, imaginational, and socially restrictive enclosure for the children. The absence of the rules opened “doors and windows and skylights” to let freshness into their minds. It opened a beneficial level of freedom for the students, teachers, and, yes, even most of the bullies.

Imagination and freedom of thought, word, and action—guided by moral right and Natural Laws of the One Creator and a mutual understanding and agreement about these—are needed to create, including to create a better state of existence if the one experienced isn’t working as well as it could. We, as individuals and a collective, have an obligation to ourselves and others to work on and increase our consciousness and awareness so that rules are not required for peaceful co-existence and quality of life. The school children in the experiment proved—or rather, reminded us—that this is possible. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.           

Practice makes progress.

© Joyce Shafer 

You are welcome to use this article in your newsletter or on your blog/website as long as you use my complete bio with it.

Joyce Shafer is a Life Empowerment Coach dedicated to helping people feel, be, and live their true inner power. She’s author of “I Don’t Want to be Your Guru, But I Have Something to Say” and other books/e-books, and publishes a free weekly online newsletter that offers empowering articles. See all that’s offered by Joyce and on her site at



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