It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

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Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.
Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

My uncle saw the yellow piece of paper stuck under the windshield and walked over to investigate.

A police ticket with a $175 fine.

One of the service vans he owns as part of his flooring store operation in a small Ohio town had expired tags.

The man makes plenty of money. $175 doesn’t mean much to him.

But the man is also principled. And the more he thought about the ticket, the more irritated he became.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he thought.

All of his friends and family told him not to. But he decided to fight the ticket.

His “guilt” was not in question. The van had expired tags that everyone at the company had simply forgot to renew.

But he was having trouble with the spirit of the law.

“If my van is sitting still in a parking lot with expired tags, is that somehow a public threat or nuisance?” he said. “Why not give residents a 24-48-hour warning period, where they can go pay the registration fees and get updated tags without the added penalty from the police department? What good does any of that do?”

I had never thought about this before. But he’s right. I’m all for making sure vehicle owners have an updated license and registration. But why tax people simply for being busy or forgetful? Why not give them a chance to do it right? An expiration date, where the fine is waived if they register in time?

What harm could that possibly cause?

My uncle argued with the judge in court. She got pissed, told him he was wasting the court’s time and piled on some community service hours in addition to his fine.

Six years ago, we were having a new garage built at our house after a large tree had fallen in a wind storm and destroyed our old garage.

We left town to visit family more than 500 miles away for the holidays. Because the contractors needed to back up trucks and equipment into my driveway while we were out of town, I parked my other car on the street in front of the house.

While we were gone, a snow storm hit.

There is a city ordinance requiring people to not park in the street when the snow plows are out. But because I was out of town, I, A. Didn’t know about the storm, and B. Couldn’t move the car even if I had known.

The city towed my car, and it cost a few hundred dollars to get it back.

That was bullshit.

The Things We Do

Why, I wonder, do we do all these things?

Who decided we’re all going to send our kids in herds to school and teach them the same things and tell them “Be yourself! Be a leader, not a follower!” but everything we do is encourage them to do the same things everyone else is doing.

When you’re a little kid, you don’t question why you’re doing anything. Your parents tell you and all your friends are doing it, so you just do it also.


I want to know.

I want to know why we don’t give parents more choices. I want to know why we don’t let kids learn about whatever they want to learn about and help them master something. I want to know why we all seem to blindly agree and go along with this being “the way.”

Some less fortunate kids think all you do is get through junior high, hustle through high school, and try to live as long as possible in adulthood, dodging cops and bullets. Because it’s all they know.

Really fortunate kids like me were herded into school and encouraged to do well because we “HAD to go to college to get a good job!!!” and everyone else was doing it anyway, so even if you didn’t HAVE to, you just assumed that was the way.

We never questioned it. We just followed the crowd. The existing rulebook that said: 1. Go to school. 2. Go to college. 3. Get a job. 4. Get married. 5. Try to make as much money as possible. 6. Try to not die. 7. If you’re lucky, retire at 65 and have enough money to not live in poverty for as long as you can survive. 8. Die and pay estate taxes.

I sit in a cubicle every day.

It’s because I make just enough money where I feel like I can’t afford to quit. Why can’t I afford to quit?

Because I have to pay my mortgage. And for a car. And for cable TV and Internet access. And for my son’s tuition. And all these little things I’m convinced I “need.”

It’s a pretty good job and I’m grateful to have it. Very. I’ve been unemployed. It’s a real shit show. This is better.

But still I ask: Why? Why are we doing it this way?

We wear business-casual every day. Khakis and button-ups and polo shirts and dress shoes. And always arrive at the same time, even though the only thing I require to do my job is a computer with Internet access. I could do it from almost anywhere.

The company invests my salary and benefits package in me (which I appreciate!) and in return, I make them a lot more money than they pay me through strategic execution of my duties—many of which are measureable, and I take great pride in improving those numbers as much as I can.

But despite that value I—and all my co-workers provide—we still have to wear these clothes, and sit at these desks, and be here at this time, and leave at that time. We’ll all get almost-4 percent raises if we’re lucky that should end up almost offsetting the cost of rising healthcare.

I’m not bagging on my employer. They really are wonderful relative to “companies.”

But I am bagging on rules that no longer make sense to me.

Three hundred years ago, if you sailed on a boat too far in any direction, you would fall off the edge into a chasm of nothingness.

A hundred years ago, black people, women and people attracted to the same sex were commonly considered second-class citizens by assholes who look like me. Huge groups of marginalized immigrants experienced the same level of discrimination.

A hundred years ago, alcohol was illegal.

Fifty years ago, basically every single person smoked tobacco.

Twenty years ago, almost none of us had ever used the Internet.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was three years away from invention.

Today, marijuana is legal for medical use in 15 or so U.S. states, and legal for recreational use in two.

Momentous changes that we somewhat take for granted but required enormous courage and fortitude to affect for those passionate to the cause.

We don’t need to fly to Mars, but we could.

We don’t need to cure cancer, but we will.

We just need to be courageous enough to look at all the things happening around us and ask: “Why are we doing this? 

Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, there are excellent reasons why.

Other times? Small business owners are getting fined because someone they employ forgot to pay $50 for a sticker with a new number on it.

So my uncle is going to run for mayor and try to change the law.

So I’m going to make my own job where maybe someday I can hire people and make sure all of the “rules” at our company make sense to everyone who is helping grow it.

How can we do this better? How can I help?

Because there’s always another way.

Because there’s always a better way.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this.

5 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way”

  1. I got a $265 fine once for parking out the front of my house, in the same spot I had for 18 months because I was less than 10m from the corner. I didn’t even know that was a rule and the bloody car across the road was doing the same and didn’t cop a fine… boooooooooooo!
    You are right I think people feel like they have to do things they don’t want to do, work in jobs they don’t like because thats the way it is. I try and live simply so I don’t need much money so I can work less hours. I decided a while ago that I like time off more than I like money and things, but of course it is easier to decide that when you don’t have people depending on you. One day I will have my babies and things will have to change a bit I guess!

  2. I question this a lot sometimes. Sometimes when i’m happy… but mostly when i’m angry. Questions like: “Okay, i know this is a rule, so i will obey the rule, but why?” It’s just so annoying to REALLY think about. It becomes: “my purpose in life is to get up at 7am every day and work retail… really? WHY?” I wonder if we had no rules, no regulations, no PATH to follow, how crazy would the world really be? Or would it just be simple and EASY?

  3. I am a seeker of knowledge myself. When I am “told” to do something, I always ask why. Why do you think it would be better to do it this way. My brain needs to understand how this is supposed to work in order for it to become something I do.
    It pisses my boss off. Apparently I’m just supposed to say “ok” and do it.
    I’ve never been that kind of person. I ask all the time. Why this? Why now? Why me? Why not?
    Sometimes I get answers…sometimes I don’t. Some would say I’m a bit of a rebel…I don’t like the status quo…and I do my best to buck that shit.

    I encourage my kids to question everything…and yes, sometimes they challenge me. That’s good with me.

    Never settle…always question.

  4. I always went against the grain for some reason. I hated doing what I was told I was supposed to do – good grades, university, 9 – 5 job, come home after work and watch TV with my dinner then go to sleep and do it all again, get married, have kids, get divorced, etc… I left school with no grades, scraped by for 10 years barely working and spending my days watching daytime TV and drinking with friends, got bored of that by age 30, started working more and saving money so I can buy a cheap flat to live in rather than get a mortgage (latin for ‘Death Grip’), whilst I’m saving I’ve decided to pursue my life-long goal of making electronic music – if I can make some money out of that it would be amazing. It’s shitty being a cleaner doing such crappy work and not earning much money and trying to save whatever I can, but I’m glad I didn’t choose to do what everyone was doing just because that’s how you’re supposed to live life, because I would have had to have choose to be an entirely different person and I would’nt have felt uniquely ME!

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Matt Fray

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