Rules are used to maintain conformity in the community, but it is very hard to change a rule.
The reason there are so many rules in Jonas’s community is that they are used to maintain social order. Sameness is a very important concept to the community. It keeps everyone from ever feeling uncomfortable. The rules not only enforce Sameness but ensure that people always know exactly what to do.
However, it is very hard to change a rule because a committee of citizens has to study it and Elders have to approve it. This is why even when the majority of the community wants the rule changed, it does not get changed. So people just look the other way, such as teaching eight year olds to ride a bike so that they know how to use it when they get their bicycle at age nine.
There is a rule for almost everything in Jonas’s community. There are rules for precision of language, enforcing apologies, and telling feelings. People are not allowed outside of their dwellings at night, and can’t bring food home unless they will eat it immediately. These are just some of the minor rules governing everyday life. Parents are supposed to reinforce these rules, and they are considered to be letting their community down if they do not.
Some rules are so unpopular with community members that they have decided to basically ignore them. An example of this the rule about bicycles. Almost everyone in the community seems to agree that eight year olds should be taught to ride a bike so that they can take advantage of their new bike as soon as possible when they turn nine. However, it is nearly impossible to get a rule changed, even when everyone wants to.
There was talk about changing the rule and giving the bicycles at an earlier age. A committee was studying the idea. When something went to a committee for study, the people always joked about it. They said that the committee members would become Elders by the time the rule change was made. (Ch. 2)
This is why everyone looks the other way when the eight year olds’ older siblings teach them how to ride their bikes. The rule is considered a formality only, it is not a serious offense and is “almost always broken.” Since the rule is not important, it is not considered worthy of the Receiver.
Rules were very hard to change. Sometimes, if it was a very important rule--unlike the one governing the age for bicycles—it would have to go, eventually, to The Receiver for a decision. The Receiver was the most important Elder. …But the committee would never bother The Receiver with a question about bicycles … (Ch. 2)
What is a serious offense is breaking a rule that causes other community members to be uncomfortable or afraid. This is why the jet pilot was severely punished for accidentally flying over the community, and Jonas risked release for being outside his dwelling at night, taking food, and stealing his father’s bicycle.
Jonas’s community could not function as efficiently as it did without rules. The rules ensured that no one in the community would ever have to feel very strong emotions. It was considered inappropriate and dangerous to love, or fear. This is why everyone in the community takes pills for Stirrings. The idea is to ensure that everyone remains under control.