Sheep with sharp teeth

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Rules are dangerous.

One of the most terrifying things you can be confronted with is a rules zombie – someone who blindly sticks to policy even when the policy is clearly wrong for the situation.

“I’m sorry, sir, but that’s the rule.”

“I wish I could, but it’s against policy.”

Here’s the problem with it: when someone follows stupid rules, you have to wonder how far they’d follow. What if a rule was really stupid?

In the state of Washington, teachers aren’t allowed to apply sunscreen to students, and students aren’t allowed to apply it to themselves without a doctors’ note. So whaddya do when you have three kids outside for field day? Let them burn, apparently: http://www.katu.com/living/health/Mom-upset-about-students-sunburn-at-Wash-school-field-day-159811965.html

An idiotic policy, yes, but one that could only have disastrous results when obeyed by cowardly rule followers who won’t just take a chance on doing the right thing.

Some rules aren’t unreasonable, of course, but the people who enforce them are overly zealous. Imagine this: you’re most of the way up Mount Everest when it’s discovered you haven’t paid a substantial permit fee to be on the mountain. At worst, you’d expect a police escort to be waiting at base camp, right? Well, this Chinese climber got beaten repeatedly by Tibetan mountain guides: http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/climbing/mountaineering/everest-2012/A-Black-Eye-at-the-Top-of-the-World-20120620.html?page=1 Granted, trying to ward them off with an ice axe was probably not a smart move. But it sounds like he got far more than he deserved. It’s like my Mom used to say, “Never cross a Sherpa – they’ll kick your behind all the way down a mountain.”

Then, of course, there are people who get the rules just flat-out wrong, like a store employee and her manager who have apparently never heard of guide dogs and insisted a functionally blind woman leave their shop with her assistance animal: http://consumerist.com/2012/06/ann-taylor-tells-my-blind-mother-her-guide-dog-isnt-allowed-in-the-store.html

Bottom line, a little sense of authority can go a long way towards turning otherwise decent people into full bore clowns.

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