When I was a kid, growing up in Massachusetts, there was a rule on the books prohibiting bathing Sundays. I have a friend who says that every time a new rule is made, an existing one has to be retired. In the face of outdated and religiously-influenced blue laws, it seems like a reasonable suggestion.

Most of us know what the right thing is to do, without having to read a bunch of ordinances and regulations, the logic goes. Shouldn’t we all be trusted to behave and not be penalized because of a few careless or arrogant souls who keep doing harmful stuff?

Even when there are plenty of signs telling us all to behave, some folks just do as they please. Some even seem to take more pleasure in defiance than they do in whatever action runs counter to policy.

The truth is, whether or not we know what’s right, plenty of us ignore the common courtesies and the vital ones.

Most rules aren’t made to arbitrarily punish and constrain a populace that is already paying attention to the needs of others. That’s who the rules are really for.

The sign at the trailhead that says, “All dogs must be on leash” isn’t there for the dogs. They can’t even read. While the sign is designed to instruct the human who travels with the dog, the policy that inspired it isn’t really for her. It’s for the people who, for whatever reason, prefer not to be greeted by her sweet, playful, friendly, 60-pound companion.

Rules enable us to have expectations. Last winter, rules allowed me to predict I could enter a shop or supermarket without unnecessary risk of either infection from a highly contagious illness or the unsuspected responsibility of carrying that disease into homes, workplaces or lungs of those more susceptible to the germs than I.

Every day, rules allow me to forecast when I might safely continue through traffic intersections. If that forecast fails, my participation in Maine’s seat belt law offers public safety workers an assumption of how badly I might be injured when someone else, who doesn’t pay attention to statutes and regulations, runs a red light and hits my car.

People who say, “rules are for everyone else” are actually right. I’m not being asked to obey them because it makes my life easier; in general, rules mean another layer of consideration between me and any action I might take. The rules are there to protect everyone else from my carelessness.

One of the prime rules of late-stage capitalism is that rules are for losers. In an exceptional nation, it seems, an individual is always an exception. E pluribus unum has become “me first.” The object lesson of all this selfishness is the world in which we live today, a planet sickening under the polluting blanket of profit, a humanity dying from its own unwillingness to act in the interests of those we’ve never met.

Psychologists tell us that one in five people now experiences heightened anxiety, due to an ongoing pandemic that could be much reduced, if only people would stop making excuses and start cooperating with the protocols. That anxiety adds to the other, smaller stresses that everyday life is constantly presenting – traffic jams, work pressures, financial hardship and even happy-go-lucky dogs on the trail.

The announcement asking you to turn off your cell phone in the theater should not be necessary. It won’t make your day go more smoothly, and besides, you already know you’re supposed to silence the never-absent connection to electronic society. The rule isn’t for you at all, but for people who are there to fall into the atmosphere created by the other humans who worked on the film, roughly 300 on average, or the live performers who are putting their souls on a stage.

I am just another bozo on the bus, far from objective about any of this, but it does seem we’re headed straight for the cliff of cultural and possibly biological destruction. Every day, we awaken to new stories of overstressed humans doing stupid things that hurt others.

My friend is probably right – there are way too many rules. Everywhere you go, there are different standards and priorities, different rules to learn. It’s one of the prices we pay for civilization and obeying them is the gift of cooperation we give to those with whom we share this crazy, mixed-up world.

None of us will know all the rules and none of us will obey the ones we know. There are certainly outdated and just plain foolish rules, and we all have to use our best judgement. But for the next little while, until at least one of our ongoing global crisis is under control, maybe we can try a little harder to do some things for the other guys.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.