Broken Laws and Broken Rules
Rugby Football is a wonderful game. It has laws, not rules, and yes, like almost every rugby player I have known, I have broken the laws, and got away with it. How? Stepping off-side, handling the ball in the ruck (old laws), blocking and obstructing ‘accidentally on purpose’. I asked one of my instructors on a national coaching coach whether we should be coaching school age players to play outside the laws. His reply was most instructive. “The laws – there’s what the law book says, what the referee is calling on the day, and what you can get away with. You get away with what you can.” He was a national level coach – so much for the laws of rugby.
There is a difference between the rule of law, specific laws, and rules. Life in various boarding schools, twelve years, from age six to eighteen, taught me that rules were made to be broken. No talking after lights out. Whisper away – just don’t let yourself be heard by the prefects or monitors listening outside the dormitory door. No hands in trouser pockets. So – stick them in your coat pockets. No smoking – well I didn’t smoke, never have. But I know many who did but very few who got caught. No talking in prep – so I taught myself and a couple of friends basic sign language – the alphabet mainly. You may not place butter on your bread – so put the butter on the bread and turn it upside down when you eat. And no, that wasn’t me. No reading in the dormitory after lights out – so, go to the toilet, with a book in your pajamas and sit there and read Lady Chatterley’s Lover for as long as you want. You may only wear ties of a quiet color. So, wear a V-neck sweater and make sure the nude lady on your quietly colored tie cannot be seen by the masters. It is forbidden to enter a public house. So, sit outside in the garden. It is forbidden to drink beer. So, order some cider – it was the West Country, after all. And remember that rules, especially school rules, are often asinine, ie -stupid, like an ass – and made to be broken.
“The law is an ass is a derisive expression said when the the rigid application of the letter of the law is seen to be contrary to common sense.” Well, that is quite explicit, as is this – “This proverbial expression is of English origin and the ass being referred to here is the English colloquial name for a donkey, not the American ‘ass’, which we will leave behind us at this point. Donkeys have a somewhat unjustified reputation for obstinance and stupidity that has given us the adjective ‘asinine’. It is the stupidly rigid application of the law that this phrase calls into question.” Both quotes come from the following site – and I am indebted to the writers thereof – https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-law-is-an-ass.html
It is well worthwhile to remember, not just the law, but the spirit of the law. I can honestly say that I have never broken a law or a rule in such a way as to cause someone else to get hurt, physically or emotionally. Play up, play up, and play life’s game – ludum ludite – I have always done so – and always have I stayed within the spirit of rule or law.