Last week, I was helping a coworker develop a spreadsheet for the daily work her team does. The goal was to allow her to enter a few pieces of data and have the spreadsheet calculate the values based on some complex formulas.

But first, I needed to write the rules.

So I asked her questions that began with, “So every time . . .” or “So you always . . .” and she would look at me hesitantly.

“Well, yes, but there are exceptions to every rule.”

She’s right, of course. But when I am working with formulas and spreadsheets, there are no exceptions. Instead, I have to rewrite the rules.

I was thinking about that proverbial phrase, “there’s an exception to every rule,” as I was making an exception to my Lenten “rule” of bedtime fasting this weekend. I had family visiting from out of town, and I was making several roundtrips to my mom’s house an hour away. On both Saturday and Sunday I was up til nearly 10 p.m., though I had firmly committed to a 9 p.m. bedtime throughout Lent.

“But,” I told myself as I not only went to bed late on Sunday night but also made a final iPhone Scrabble move at about 9:45 p.m., “There’s an exception to every rule.”

But on Monday night, when I was back at home by myself and just climbing into bed at 9:08, I realized that while I thought I was just making exceptions the past two nights, in reality, I may have been rewriting the rules.

I have a feeling I do that a lot.

As a rule, I eat a very healthy diet, full of whole grains and organic vegetables. I shop very carefully, reading labels and comparing ingredients. I don’t buy prepared foods, and I try to make everything from scratch.

But when my younger sister Sierra stayed with me for three months while she did an internship, I had no problem eating her Totinos Pizza Rolls or helping her polish off a jar of nacho cheese sauce. Plus, I eat an inordinate amount of candy.

Those are just exceptions to the rule, right?

Come to find out, there is a false premise behind the exception rule. According to the principle of reductio ad absurdum, there is an inherent contradiction in the proverbial phrase. If every rule has an exception, wouldn’t there be an exception to that rule which would be a rule with no exception?

All I know is that I’m going to bed at 9 p.m. tonight.

No exceptions.

Photo by by ToniVC. Used with permission according to the Creative Commons License.