We are obsessed with rules.
Whether it’s the “rules of the game” or “rules of engagement” or “rules of the church” or “rules to live by,” we often have a burning need to either tell someone the rules by which we play or ask for them.
In fact, we’re so obsessed with rules that we often fail to employ common sense to so many areas of our lives that it becomes the easiest answer to cite rules over thinking. Why is that? I believe there are multiple answers to the question, and I’m going to share some. Here are five thoughts on the subject of rules:
- “When we ‘play by the rules’ we can be assured, to some degree, that we’re not to blame if things go wrong.” The problem here, though, is that it rarely works out this way, does it? We hope and trust that someone else put rules in place that are fail-proof and are meticulously designed to lead us to success. When we follow the rules that someone else established, it’s true that we can follow a process, but it does not mean we are blameless.
- “When we create and insist on rules, we feel we can create consistent outcomes.” My favorite example here is when companies pursue ISO compliance. While meant to insure and control quality, this process is largely a documentation of process that a specific task is done the same way each and every time. It doesn’t mean that it is done optimally, and it is virtually impossible to forecast every variable that can be introduced into every process. Example: I am responsible for inserting a cotter pin into a metal rod in the manufacturing of a specific part. A wild hog escapes from the meat packing plant next door, enters our facility, and runs rampant through our manufacturing floor. Upsetting the entire container of cotter pins and mauling someone in the manufacturing line before me, the hog flails, uncultured, for 30 minutes before surrendering to capture. What is the procedure for that in our rules?
- “When we put rules in place, we believe we can control the actions of others.” Nice try, rule makers! How is that working for you? It’s not! Rules, as they say, are made to be broken. Unless people (and some people choose to be for reasons of avoiding blame) are mindless drones, we are meant to be thinkers and deciders. Sure, we can pretty easily be “convinced” to obey traffic laws and, most of the time, not kill each other, but there are folks in prisons for a reason.
- “When we put rules in writing, they become gospel, and we can sway others to our way of thinking.” I used the word “gospel” here intentionally. Churches are notorious for taking a witness to the life of Jesus and turning it into an unadulterated rule book for living. We are quite selective, however, about which specific lines of text we choose to take literally and which ones are no longer reasonably observed or enforced. I heard a sermon delivered by Rev. David Allred recently that specifically referenced the Bible as the aforementioned “witness to the life of Christ.” It was one of the most powerful references to the text I have seen/heard in a long time. Reverend Allred also stated that the Bible can also be one of the most evil weapons wielded (paraphrased). As with most things, this text can be used to uplift, encourage, and promote, or it can be used to demonize, punish, and condemn (interchangeably at the whim of the user). Is this the intended purpose? Is this the spirit of Jesus, or did he actually boil it down to two rules, debunking most all of what the Pharisees had established as “Rules of the church?”
- “When we have rules to follow, we can measure our success and know when we’ve done a good job.” Rules are not ample substitutes for goals. As individuals, we need goals, and we need to participate in the setting of those goals. Do we truly want to be the kinds of people that require others to determine how we measure success? Do we really want to rely on someone else to provide the stick by which we measure our personal progress? The answer is NO! We want to control our own destiny and decide what success equals for our own lives.
Most, or all, of these lines of thinking are accepted as true. The greatest truth, though, is that there is no substitute for critical thinking. Critical thinking requires that we analyze our relationships and actions and make decisions about potential outcomes that result from them. People need, more than to be ruled, to be trusted. There is no substitute for a sense of accomplishment. There is no puzzle piece that replaces filling a need that has never been filled. We benefit far more greatly from solving a problem than following a formula.
A wise friend told me once “Only you have ultimate control over your life and career.” (Tweet That) The longer I live the more I understand the wisdom in that statement. In order to assert that control, though, I have to make my own rules, set my own goals, and expand my own limits. I can’t rely on someone else to arbitrarily do these things for/to me.
How have you overcome someone else’s rules to define your own success? Tomorrow Begins Today.