Reconsidering Unwritten Rules

The recent brawl in baseball reminded me that despite the ability to Google almost anything, many people are unpleasantly surprised by the “unwritten” rules in some activities. We, as a society, have fewer homogenizing experiences and can easily sequester ourselves into a sub-culture that is not receptive to uninformed newcomers.

Professional baseball’s aging demographics may be part of why there was shock that a pitcher would purposely hit a batter to settle a three-year-old perceived insult. Unless you are a serious long-term fan, or were schooled by one, you would not know that this behavior was totally in keeping with the traditions of the game — despite its apparent untimeliness and detrimental results for all involved.

It got me thinking about other unwritten rules that may no longer be appropriate. Things like Chicago’s “no catsup on hot dogs” decree and a few “understandings” in some engineering offices and machine shops. The origin of some rules baffles me; why no catsup but mustard is encouraged? What would make a designer decide there should never be a helix angle greater than twenty degrees?

When asked to defend the helix restriction, an old friend and veteran engineer swore it was in a noted reference book and was embarrassed when he could not find it. I am not saying it was not a valid rule at one time or in certain products, just that, to paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, things are right or wrong according to their circumstances.

A favorite example of this was a mother teaching her child to bake a ham for Sunday dinner. Just before putting it into the pan she instructed him to cut a slice off each end. The kid asked why, as kids tend to do, and mom said “because that is what your grandmother taught me to do.” Being an obnoxious boy, as boys frequently are, he went to the other room and checked with grandma herself. The older women returned with him to the kitchen and revealed that “I only cut off the ends so it would fit in the roasting pan.” One mystery was solved that day.

Can you account for why you follow certain rules? Maybe it is time to reconsider some of them and take advantage of the “bigger pan” available these days.

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.