Most of us like a sure thing. Even the “adventures” we take are within pretty controlled limits. A sure thing can mean safety, comfort, and confidence. But sometimes, when we hang on too tightly, we get stuck. In one of my roles in life I teach church governance. Part of that deals with rules and regulations, the constitution and bylaws, by which the church governs life together. Not exactly the subject of the next Hollywood blockbuster! Many people are inclined to sneer at the rules. They get upset when the rules seem to get in the way of their next great idea.
I generally feel differently about rules in general. I associate them with a level playing field. If the rules are written down somewhere and we all have access to them, one person or group can’t snag power. Or at least it gives those on the margins access to ways to push back. Sometimes our preferences and habits can become “rules” too. We may not notice it until someone challenges the way we believe life should be. Then we’re thrown off kilter. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. We may even claim: “I’m following the rules – what’s wrong with you/them?”
Unwritten rules – whether personal or group – are dangerous. “We” (whoever “we” are) know that they work and we expect everyone else to live by them too. That quick response can often stifle our ability to find new ways, to hear new ideas, to entertain new thoughts. We shut down, we fail to adapt, we miss the possibilities of strong relationships. The more offended we feel, the more rigid we may become.
Here are some thoughts that might help:
· Often rules are in place because of something that went wrong. Someone, sometime, did something and it led to a mess. So, a rule got put in place to prevent that unfortunate occurrence again. Since we humans are endlessly creative in messing up, the rule-writers never go out of work! So, it’s important to think about the “why” of a rule that annoys us or we are committed to.
· Rules can sometimes be put in place to protect power and privilege. If my rules keep certain people away from authority, responsibility and power, I may tell myself that it’s for the common good, but it may be because I don’t want to share. So, we need to think about the “what” of the rules.
· Rules – or the violation of “our rules” -- can prompt a reaction. It’s not fun to realize how much of a stickler I may be. But it’s important to recognize that so we don’t find ourselves backed into a corner. So, it’s useful to look at the “why” of our reaction.
· Sometimes rules serve as a handy cover for an inclination to judge others. Other people’s behaviours lead us to generalize about their character, upbringing, intelligence, and so on. If you find someone’s rule challenge leads you to those kinds of thoughts, ponder the “who” of your rules – who do they exclude and why? Does violating your rule really point to a character flaw.
Sometimes, if we can explore our stickiness around rules and step back we may discover some things. Perhaps we and they agree on the end we’re seeking, but just not the means. Maybe, from your concern for why rules exist, you can helpfully point out possible pitfalls even while celebrating new and diverse opportunities. You can, in fact, build on what you already knew. You will be more appreciated by others because of your openness matched with experience. You might develop a reputation as someone who gives others a fair chance. Your concern for rules is a gift – try not to let it get stuck.