Unwritten Laws.

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie11, Maria the Silver Fox, Padmum and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get eleven different flavours of the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by gaelikaa.

All of us are exposed to unwritten laws in just about all walks of life, that we instinctively know and follow or decide not to follow. I suspect that gaelikaa has chosen this topic as she is an alien in India and still coming to grips with the thousands of unwritten laws of caste, community, religion, state, nation and most importantly, of family, that she must be tackling in a never ending process. I can assure you that it will not be easy. My sympathies go to her, and I eagerly look forward to her post.

Unwritten laws are what makes societies civilised. Or at least that is what they are supposed to do. Reasonable boundaries, not hard and fast rules about right and wrong. The written ones on the statutes take care of the hard and fast rules. Perhaps unwritten laws are what can be called moral standards, or codes of conduct practiced by tradition and/or custom, without even stopping to think about them. These laws or rules have evolved over time to provide the lubrication needed to keep the interactions of people within societies at harmonious levels. The beauty of them is that they keep evolving like from feudal behaviour to modern democratic behaviour, or often in the reverse direction as well. While most of them are positive, about which little needs to be said, there are a number of negative ones too, which eventually turn out to be superstitions. The negative ones, are those superstitions that have grown from a particular to the general due to some quirky viral infection of the psyches of societies.

I am sure that all societies will have such unwritten laws but, doubt very much that the Western ones can have as bewildering a variety of negative ones as the Eastern ones do, particularly, China, India and Japan.

Let me narrate a small incident to give you a flavour. My father as he is wont to, one day blasted the maid for handing him over something with her left hand. She is naturally left handed as is my son Ranjan, and my brother Arvind. When my right hand suffered ulnar palsy late last year, I favoured my left hand for many weeks. I never heard my father berate either Ranjan or Arvind for using their left hands, nor me during my impediment. In this simple incident, we have three unwritten laws. One, don’t use your left hand to give something to someone; two, this law does not apply to near and dear ones and three, Servants are to be treated differently from family.

I had the great pleasure of pointing out the inanity of these laws to my father and also informing him that since the maid is left handed, she favours her left hand in all other activities in the kitchen, like chopping, cutting, stirring etc. I did also point out that he had double standards. He has not berated her since.

There are other areas of our lives where unwritten laws need to be in place for special purposes and here is one example. The paradox is that these laws had to be written down to spread the message!

My first formal exposure to ‘The Unwritten Laws of Business’ by W. J. King. was through a gift to me by a mentor when I was a Management Trainee in 1967. A much used copy still exists in my library. I, in turn, have always insisted that my mentees read this remarkably concise but powerful and contemporary book.

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