I am fascinated by rules. I haven’t run across a rule yet that doesn’t make sense or have some relevance in a particular circumstance or situation.
Rules are always relative. They depend on who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and how you want to do it. Rules are, I think, a fundamental part of every structure, every process, every game, and every lifestyle. Humans have used the power of rules to build religions and construct philosophies and organize sciences.
If you set them up right, rules are a way for you to just do it – whatever it is – without having to re-think every step every time.
Ideally, you should be able to use your rules to remind yourself of the choices you’ve already made so that every time you come to a crossroads the direction you’re going to take has already been predetermined.
Rules are a kind of shorthand for all the choices you’ve made among the various ways you can (or want) to act when you interact with the world around you.
The biggest benefit to you in having well-defined set of rules connected to a variety of situations is that you don’t have to waste brain power trying to decide which way to go whenever you come across something you’ve done before.
You don’t have to power up your brain neurons. They’ve been there; they’ve done that. All you have to do is go.
Look all around you and all you see are rules, rules, and more rules.
Ancient wisdom guys just pile on the rules, assuring us that following this or that set of rules will get us to a good place. (They know this works, they say, because of all the precedents and traditions and stuff which are just other names for rules.)
The guys in the lab coats will all tell you that making up rules is how us humans make sense of this very confusing world.
If we didn’t make up rules for ourselves — belt ourselves up and box ourselves in — we’d be so overwhelmed by all the incoming data from the world around us that we’d just stand there paralyzed and unable to move.
We are hard-wired to cringe away from uncertainty. The chance that our very next step is likely to pitch us off a cliff or into some very toothy predator-mouth makes us want some guidelines, some maps…something or somebody telling us what to do.
It’s an important survival trait for us humans.
Whether any of the rules we adopt as our own are effective or not will often depend on the people around us (also known as Society or Family or Friends) and how well their sets of rules mesh or interact with our own.
A LEGACY OF RULE-MONGERING
My fascination with rules does not mean that I’m going to follow every durned rule I encounter. It just means I like looking at them, deconstructing them, seeing the why behind them and watching where following them takes you.
I think this is probably a legacy from my Grandma, the Rebel-Without-A-Pause, who raised me.
It is ironic in a way.
The woman was a force of nature who did what she wanted when she wanted and how she wanted. There was not a rule made she could not dismantle by using some other rule as a lever.
She was an impossible woman and I loved her dearly.
For me, growing up, she was The Rule Factory. Mama had more rules on tap than anybody else I knew. I was the wild child she tried to impose them on.
Her ground rules were very simple. There were only two.
- Stay safe.
- Do no harm.
From that foundation flowed an incredible variety and array of rules and sub-rules and precepts and corollaries and such that could make your head spin if you actually stopped to consider them.
Living and dealing with Mama and her rule-making propensities taught me one very important lesson: In any game, if you set up the rules, you can always win.
THE THING ABOUT RULES
For most people, their life-rules are just a given. These rules are subconscious — unexamined bits of an assortment of hints and allegations, life-hacks and commandments — often imposed on us (when we are way too young to defend ourselves) by the people around us.
Somebody or other once pointed out that most people live from rules and standards and expectations they received before they were six years old.
These rules are rarely systematic and are often contradictory with little built-in flexibility. Sometimes these rules can be self-sabotaging and self-defeating. Sometimes they can be positively toxic.
(Hey, when you’re little, what do YOU know? Everybody knows better than you, right?)
There’s an old Jesuit maxim that goes, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.”
This saying is widely attributed to Ignatius of Loyola, the Spanish Basque Catholic priest and theologian who founded the Jesuit religious order.
Saint Iggy lived from 1491 to 1556, but the idea that by the time a child is seven he or she has been loaded up with all the rules and such that will pretty much determine how that individual will behave and react to the world is an ancient concept.
Everybody you will ever meet carries around a whole backpack of rules – ideas of how the world works that determine and dictate how they (and you) are supposed to act and how they (and you) are supposed to feel as you make your way through the world.
Few people recognize what most of the rules they live by are.
They hardly remember that many of these hard and fast rules are actually ideas and constructs imposed on them by other people.
They probably don’t even notice whether these rules support or prevent them from experiencing emotions they consider most important or living the life they want to live.
Often, because they don’t even know the rules they are living, these people will do things that are detrimental to how they say they want to be walking.
Even if they are feeling the need to change the way they do things, they keep making the same old moves that they’ve already found to be ineffective over and over again.
After all, they tell themselves, this is the way the world is supposed to be, right? Acting this way and not that is supposed to work, right? So, why isn’t it working?
Good questions, huh?
SO, WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
If you feel life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for you, maybe those rules you are following are like a badly fitted pair of shoes. They may be excellent, high-quality shoes, but they just aren’t right for your feet.
Let’s parse it out….
- Let’s say the life-rules you are currently following arise from other people’s ways of seeing the world.
- Now let’s say that the way you see the world is not the same as those other people’s perspectives.
- Okay, now think about it: How likely is it that all of these rules you were gifted with or that you inherited are going to be the ones that will get you to where you are doing what you most want to do?
FINDING THE RULES THAT FIT
Maybe it’s time to go take a look at all those rules you’ve been following (probably from early childhood) that have not worked for you.
I do have to issue one caveat: Nobody else is going to be able to do this part for you. It’s your rules, after all, just as the stupid shoes that gives you blisters and bunions are your shoes.
A shoe salesman can make suggestions, but you’re the one who puts on those things and checks out how they feel on your feet. You’re the one who decides whether they look good on you.
Also, be aware that this rule-finding expedition is an exploratory process that won’t get solved by taking a 15-minute quiz.
You didn’t grow your rules in a day, and there’s probably a whole pile of them in there, all gnarly and tangled-up in a mass.
[Look at that. Even making your own rules has rules!]
It’ll probably help if you set up a notebook and grab something to write with when you’re doing this.
That way you’ll notice when you start repeating yourself and when you get stuck in yet another tangle of thoughts.
First, just notice the rules you are following. Look for the default set of actions you take in certain situations.
When you’ve got a pile of them stacked up, start asking yourself why you do this and not that. Try to find the underlying reasoning behind your actions.
When you start finding a common theme running through several sets of default actions that you take without thinking very much about it, you’ve probably discovered one of your hidden rules.
- Do you like how following this rule make you feel?
- Are the actions that you take as a result of following this rule congruent with the values and principles that you hold most dear?
- Do the results you get from following this rule make you feel good about yourself and the world?
- Do you like the places that following this rule are taking you?
- Are you satisfied with the life you live when you follow this rule?
If you answer “yes” to these questions about a rule, then the rule that you found is a keeper.
If the answer is “no” to each of these questions, dump the rule. Look for alternative options.
If the answer is, “it depends,” then you have probably found that the rule you are following is layered and nuanced and you’ll need to dig deeper to ferret out all the whys and wherefores for each of the connected pragmatic moves. It’s a sign that you haven’t reached down to your layer of ground rules yet.
Keep on running each new rule discovery through this process – dump, keep, dump, dump, keep.
Eventually you’ll start to see the shape of the rules that work for you. You will begin to refine the collection of the ground rules that you want to govern your actions and your life.
The funny thing about all this is that as you focus on what works for you and what does not, the process will start to snowball.
You won’t even have to worry about making new rules. They’ll just show up all on their own without fail. (Remember my Grandma, the Rule Factory? Rules are really easy to make up.)
When these new rules arrive, you’ll be better able to decide whether the newbies might be an effective way for you to move.
Then it’s back to asking the questions and dump, dump, dump, keep, dump, and so on. After a while it gets to be automatic.
When other people suggest rules to add to your pile, you can just run them through this process and decide for yourself whether the proposed rule would work for you and not against you.
Lori Deschene has an excellent blog about the rules she has developed for her own life walk that she first wrote published in 2009.
Click this button and you can enjoy her thoughts on the subject. (I agree with them wholeheartedly.)
This YouTube video, “In Unorganized Baseball Games, Kids Play By Their Own Rules” was a “Sunday Closer” published by TODAY.com in 2017. It’s a lovely reminder of one of the greatest benefits of playing by your own rules.
Here’s a poem:
RULES FOR ASKING
Ask and it shall be given,
Seek and ye shall find.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it?
Just manifest what’s in your mind.
When you ask Dad for the keys to the Universe,
It’s good if you already know how to drive.
You have to really mean it, really want it,
‘Cause the old guy just won’t take your shuck and jive.
The asking has to be wholehearted,
And the granting of your wish comes at a cost.
Before you ask, be sure you know the price tag.
Is the treasure gained worth the asset lost?
You cannot ask for something that’s not righteous,
For something that will harm some other one.
If you’ve given all your heart for a falseness,
Then the Real will eat you up just for fun.
Making ultimatums and Or-Elses,
Trying to dictate how and what will be,
You’ll be all misaligned and nothing you will find,
For you guarantee your hands will come up empty.
Your arrogance will boomerang back on you
As you watch your dreams evaporate and die.
Without humility, your wants will never be
And every path you take end in a lie.
If you really want to see your heart’s desire,
Be kind and stand upright and true.
Talk softly from the heart, and really mean it,
And maybe the Real will listen to you.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Anne’s Boots Rock” by Mike Baird via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
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