Each and every culture, community or group of people has its own rules which govern what is deemed as acceptable behaviour from its members. These rules are in place for a reason – to keep our less socialized aspects of personality in check and ensure the (relative) safety of all. They determine what is right or wrong, what is considered desirable or undesirable as well as punishments for overstepping those boundaries, which may range from being unpopular or socially shunned and ostracized, to real punishments by the state such as depriving a mischievous individual of their freedom or, in extreme cases, their life.
Some of the rules are anachronistic remnants of the past unfit for new situation but for the most part they evolve together with communities and cultures and adapt to accommodate new circumstances. All systems imply some rules and all systems have values which, by a logical extension, means that if some things are important others are less so. It’s impossible to have a system without a value judgement which necessarily discriminates some things. Systems and their rule are not perfect but are useful and we’re able to learn the rules and enjoy a safer more structured existence riddled with far less violence and injustice than ever before in human history. In order to keep the system operational in large groups there need to be some simple instructions as absolutes of morality and ethics in that society. But there is a catch. Isn’t there always one somewhere? The catch is that, although these rules are spelled out and you need to adopt them to be a functional member of the group, there is a whole other set of rules, unwritten nuances, experiential knowledge aka context in which rules can be bended or don’t apply. There are loopholes.
We begin learning the rules of our culture as soon as we get here. These are the written rules and the narrow rule structure of our immediate family. Then we step into adulthood only to find out that it’s all fine and dandy in theory, yet practice is something entirely different and more complex. The line dividing right and wrong is not nearly as clear as it seems while you’re listening to the mantic rules of your group from the safety of childhood. It’s wrong to kill – unless it’s self-defence or if you’re killing the “others” on a battle field somewhere to protect your system. You may even be rewarded by a medal for killing there. Don’t lie – unless the truth is too damaging and hurtful and a lie will protect and cover up things that are not so important to be known or bending the truth will lead to some gain, keep you out of trouble or save someone. Respect the elders but rebel and speak out if what they’re doing is wrong. Be yourself – unless that self is not to uncomfortable for those around you. In that case you need to tone down this strange self to not rock the boat. How do we do those things and decide? Well, we have to figure it out. The line is squiggly and nuanced in most rules we’ve ever been given. It’s all context.
It takes far more time for a human to mature than any other mammal out there. We have the basics of the brain formulated pretty early on, but we have a strange transitional period in which we need to learn the nuances. This will entail unlearning and relearning some of the fundamentals we’ve been taught as unbreakable truths. We don’t fully grow up until about 25. The frontal cortex wires up from experience as you go and is least determined by genes. It’s you most adaptable and plastic part of the brain. Teenagers and post teens are how they are, impulsive, pleasure and experience seeking, slim on self-control and delaying gratification, moody and confused bunch because their frontal cortex is not fully formed and is trying to navigate through the nuances and create their own morality and ethics which can be incorporated into that of their culture. They don’t rebel because they are inconsiderate selfish jerks, their brains literally functions differently, seeking stimulation all the time with a highly diminished capability to properly weigh some behaviours as a fully matured brain would.
It may sometimes seem s an impossible feat to do the right thing even when you’re deep into adulthood, middle aged or in the autumn of life. Imagine doing it with a brain that is not fully turned on yet and is incapable of regulating some things you take for granted. Judge less, understand more and help the adolescents in your life see the nuances more clearly instead of punishing and threatening. Guidance is far more valuable than judgement.