“Sometimes doing the right thing means bending the rules”

“I’ve learned from my Master that sometimes doing the right thing means bending the rules” explains Ahsoka Tano to the Jedi younglings who had come to rescue her from pirate captivity although they had been explicitly commanded not to[1].

Ahsoka thus appreciates their ‘act of disobedience’ because in “bending the rules” they had done “the right thing”.

This may at first glance strike one as an inconsistent oxymoron[2]. Do not the rules determine what is right? If so, how can breaking them be right? And if the rules are not right, then they must be bent not just sometimes, but always, and new rules reflecting the practice of actual right and wrong have to be implemented.

Note first that we consider rules, not moral laws. A rule is, for example, “Obey your superiors”; a prime example for a moral law would be “Thou shalt not murder”. Assume we are talking about good rules that need no wholesale reconsidering. Then doing the right thing will indeed sometimes mean bending them. Here’s why: rules cannot rule every eventuality. This would be impossible, given the complexity of life. They are more or less fine-grained rules of thumb of what to do; and most, if not all of them derive from moral laws, and have thus less reality than the latter. For these two reasons, there are ample possibilities for the rules not covering the right actions in any given situation.

I insist that Ahsoka’s wisdom is no newfangled, arbitrary, relativistic, individualism. It is in the Bible, too. Did not Jesus commend his disciples when they plucked the grains on a sabbath, citing David who, with his combatants, had eaten the holy bread which was reserved for the priests (Matthew 12:1-8)? Did not the midwives tell the Pharaoh at best a half-truth in order to save the Israelite boys from Pharaoh’s killing order (Exodus 1:15-21)? And did not the apostles John and Peter publicly defy the order of the High Priests (Acts 5:27-29)? In the first case a ceremonial rule given by God himself is bent, in the second the rule that one should tell the truth, and in the third the directive to obey authorities.

Rules can help us to do the right thing, but we should not mistake them for the right thing. Sometimes, we need to follow our conscience rather than the rules to do what is right.

[1] Clone Wars, series 5 episode 8

[2] An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (such as cruel kindness).

Image: Ahsoka praises the younglings for their bravery.

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