Following the Rules or Breaking a Few


What are the differences between those who follow all of the rules to the letter and those (of us) who don’t mind breaking a few? Is the goal to make sure I never lie, cheat or steal or to make sure those around me know what I think they are doing wrong?

How does one know, in the corporate world, for example, when it’s time to tell a supervisor that another co-worker has broken a rule? Do we share that information with the co-worker first or do we just go about, almost tattling, to the head boss that we are sure someone else is a danger to the corporation?

In a more private sector, how does that work? Say an attorney, or physician or therapist is told that an ethical code was broken by an attorney in their firm or physician in their practice. If it is not about the actual client of that professional, but a ‘well-meaning’ family member, what should we do?

There appears to be a spectrum from the very honest, virtuous, morally perfection seeking individual who will jump at the chance to show that a rule was broken to the other end where the least honest, least caring of ethical rules or boundaries creates true danger for others in their firm or practice seemingly without care. As with anything that human begins do as far as behaviors, these extremes exist.

So, who are these folks who jump to the chance to tell on another person? In my experience, it is the very ones who were, for the most part, the hero/star child in the family. The family is recreated in the workplace so that this individual can cozy up to the higher ups and let them know someone is on guard for the next possible mistake made within the workplace.

A perfect example of this happened during my career as a therapist at the detox unit at Gateway Rehabilitation in Aliquippa, PA. At that time, I had been about six years sober. I had gone to lunch with a co-therapist on the detox unit. Later that day (about 3 pm), she came to my office, sat down at my desk, had a most grave look on her face and asked,

“Debbie, is there anything you’d like to tell me?” Clueless, as usual and knowing how this person operated, I looked up and tried to figure out, what I had done wrong this time.

“I don’t think so, since we had lunch together a couple of hours ago.” I had nothing in my normally guilty conscious. I was, and am, one of those therapists who are challenging, honest and self-disclosing with my clients and patients. Some have seen it as attacking them, especially the family members, yet, it’s dealing with clients and family members in the moments of crisis. Warm and fuzzy does nothing to help the situation but rather firm but kind is the rule for me.

I had already been written up for saying the word ‘fuck’ in the therapy groups I ran on the detox unit. In the inevitable meeting with my supervisors, normally after one of the women patients on the unit tattled to a nurse or supervisor. “Debbie Whittam said the word ‘fuck’ in group today!”

The intentions of the women on the detox unit are far different than the serial tattletale, yet the outcome is the same…kind of like the old ‘shame game’.

Each time I was pulled in front of the judging eyes of supervisors at the rehab, most of whom had a stigma against anyone with an addiction, (what?!) I was chastised for using such an offensive word. “I didn’t say ‘fuck you’ to anyone! I would say rolling my eyes, “I said you get to the point when you say ‘I don’t give a fuck’ and that is where the common bond of those in the unit can come together and work on a way to begin to care again. (More eyes rolling, now on their part to me.)

Anyway, back to the well-meaning lunch-sharing co-therapist who is informing me that I possibly will be terminated. I said, “Really, why?” She pulled out a grocery receipt that had fallen out of my coat pocket onto her seat and she had glanced and seen ‘Vodka’ on it. “I need to warn you Debbie that as your co-therapist I am duly mandated to tell our supervisor if I think you have relapsed and not told any of us about it.”

Okay, follow closely here, if she hadn’t rushed to judgment and hurried to already tell my supervisor, (of course she did) she would have realized that one does not purchase Vodka at Giant Eagle.

Secondly, as she handed me the receipt, I began to smile, as I was used to similar incidents with her when she was sure she was right and someone had to pay for their seriously flawed ways.

I said to her, “Look at the receipt again.” Her face flushed and appeared to then drain of all blood in it. Taking the receipt back, she looked closer she read Vodka Sauce. It was, indeed, not Vodka but rather a spaghetti sauce that I love that has a rather cream taste and chunky tomato texture.

“Oh,” is all my co-therapist said. She did not apologize for the rush to judgment or not taking a closer look before running to tell any higher ups.

My experience with these types of ‘hero/star’ child of the extreme is there will be times when they will fall into their own shit pile created for themselves just as the opposite side of the rule follower/breaker will, when not being considerate of their co-professionals, act out of old patterns of behavior. Better, I say, to be somewhere in the middle where normal, mistake makers are doing what they do out of love and not trying to make points to win at the end.

Let’s talk about it.

Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact: Contact@DebraWhittam.com

#breakingrules #followingrules

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