TB’s Love/Hate Relationship With the Rules

Quote of the Day:

Hell, there are no rules here–we’re trying to accomplish something.” –Thomas Edison

TB found myself this rainy summer morn in a humorless large meeting room staring blankly at the surrounding Junior Leaguers, distracted professionals and a large group of bubbling over, sunny ladies prone to speak to everyone in the voice most of us reserve for our three-year old scamps. And God bless ’em, if my career necessitated speaking to scamps for thirty years I imagine I’d talk that way too. But it wasn’t the sugar sweet sounds or the schoolmarm smiles that bothered me. It was the Rules.

“Be here at this time, leave here at that. Bring this, leave that, volunteer for these….I said VOLUNTEER, Dammit!” Ok, I added the “dammit” but trust me, it was part of the message, spoken aloud or not.

Rationally, I understand the need for Rules. And all the Rules at my Little Scamp’s new school are perfectly reasonable. It’s just that I hate being bound by rules inflicted upon me externally.

On the other hand, if I volunteer for something, really volunteer I mean–not at the point of an unspoken “dammit”–I love the rules. Sports rules? Love ’em. I want to know them all and know them best. I understood the infield fly rule at seven and I’ve never been able to figure out why it’s so hard for everyone else to get. I’ll never forget discovering that on strike 3, with first base open, I could make a run for it if the pitch I swung at and missed touched dirt even if the catcher scooped it cleanly. In a summer league game I once used my special knowledge to walk to first base calmly after a swing-and-a-miss as the other team ran off the field without drawing a throw from the catcher. I only hope you can imagine the smirk on my face when the umpire called me “safe!” and the opponents had to retake their positions.

I even love the Rules of my chosen legal profession. In fact my chief gripe about being a lawyer is the Rules are too often enforced haphazardly and inconsistently. I am devoted to the Rules of logic, though I sometimes run afoul of them. I have often considered writing a manifesto of the Rules of appropriate behavior amongst guys, but you see I cannot, for to codify the Rules is to make them no longer voluntary. When following the Rules is under duress rather than by choice I rebel against them and begin searching for loopholes, and finding none, resort to outlawry.

The Rules of the Road are sacrosanct. Drive in the right lane except to pass. Move over for a vehicle on the inbound ramp. Let one driver in line ahead of you in a traffic backup. For violations of none of these may you be fined. But speeding? That’s written down and punishable. I can’t abide the restrictions. Am I getting through on this?

The point is, I guess, maybe, I’m feeling a bit like a heel today. My little scamp, born free, given as much latitude as possible in our effort to teach her from the outset to think independently, to question everything….well, for the first time really she will be subject to a set of Rules neither of my own choosing nor specially designed to apply only to her. She is being formally introduced to the outside world and though she will not realize it she is being indoctrinated. She must stay in line, eat and drink according to the schedule, share. It will be good for her. It is the next step in learning self-discipline. It will only get worse as the years go by and by worse I mean better. My job is to reinforce the absolute importance of following those Rules while at the same time instilling a sense of healthy skepticism. In the meantime, I quietly seethe at the realization that I will be subject to the schoolmarm’s sweet insistence that I sit down and shut up while she talks.

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About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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5 Responses to TB’s Love/Hate Relationship With the Rules

  1. Jessie Lou says:

    It should come as no surprise that I cannot stand it when people do not follow the basic rules – at work it is particularly bothersome. By basic I mean: come to work on time, lunch is noon to 1pm – leave on time, come back on time; work ends at 5pm. How hard can that be – you would be surprised. The problem continues on to the honesty of the timesheet where none of the accuracies are reported. For my own amusement there is a list……. My biggest work infraction would be checking this website from time to time during the day.

  2. Flyin J says:

    Can I start a paragraph with Oh My Goodness. As I read this, a flood of emotions began to rush through me as my mind began to contemplate my thoughts into something worth reading. You know there are professions where you live by rules (regulations) or die. In our publications we have notes, cautions, and warnings which we all know but never mention were written with human blood. I come from a place where if you don’t have rules you have chaos. When it comes down to the fight, you want to know the others supporting you are following the same ROE’s (rules of engagement). I wonder if could ever find a quote from a war fighting General similar to the one you posted from Thomas Edison.
    On the other hand, I sit here with a lesson taught many years ago. Rules are meant to be broken. It’s how you get around them that counts. Sometime things won’t get done if you don’t bend them every once in awhile. So, act as if you were following them. It keeps you out of trouble as you accomplish what needs to be done, with Safety in the forefront. But, it raises and ethical question, Does this inevitably compromise our integrity?
    Finally, as I was reading this you made it sound like you just dropped your little scamp off in China. I am glad I finished reading your blog before I finished my thoughts. Kids need rules or do you want to call them boundaries. I am sure they can still find their independence and free will. Just look at my youngest.
    I leave you with one thought. As an avid reader, I know you once read Lord of the Flies. Did we not learn?

  3. Flyin’ J and J Lou, thanks for the good commentary. You each raise a similar point regarding a time for following rules I did not address directly–the workplace. Since I am both Janitor and CEO of my own firm, I forget about this necessity sometimes, but I would put workplace rules in the category of voluntary, although having a job is not necessarily that. Basically, if I’m getting paid, I’ll follow the rules of whoever’s payin, and if I’m in charge of lives, a la FJ, I’m followin’ those rules for keeping people alive too. Keep in mind, in case the writing was not clear enough, that this was mostly tongue-in-cheek, though my main point obviously is that, well, I don’t like being told what to do!

    FJ, your question about a general commenting on “rules” has me curious. I’ll surf around a bit on that one and check my archives. I have a feeling I can come up with something good.

    I’m reminded of an article I posted on Freestyle once where a comparison of the American “amateur” “citizen” armed forces of WWII was made with Germany’s “professional” force and how the modern American military is ironically modeled upon the loser of that war. It was argued that the Americans, partly of necessity and partly of culture, were better equipped in battle to adjust quickly to a changing situation because junior officers and NCO’s were given great latitude to act on their own judgement while their German counterparts had to comply with their original orders until ordered otherwise. It’s a whole ‘nuther subject in some ways, but an illustration of my serious point on “the Rules”, among my hyperbolic essay’s more jocular points, which is that one must not sacrifice good judgement or logic in the effort to adhere strictly to them.

    And I’m ashamed to say, I’ve yet to read “Lord of the Flies.” Perhaps I shall.

    But first I have to finish a WWII Brit sailor yarn, then an anthropological tome sent for my birthday by Little Boy.

    And JLou, thanks for stickin’ it to the Man in furtherance of the TBU!

  4. Jessie Lou says:

    In the case of the little scamp boundaries would be a good term, FJ. God love her she is in the learning stage about order among chaos. And being the only child at home just the same as my little IR you don’t have to worry so much about the boundaries/rules – there is no competition for good behavior. IR had more rules to adhere to than most at the hands of a verbally abusive sperm donor which is a whole other subject. Boundaries in and of themselves would be a good subject – I spent years in therapy learning about boundaries.
    TB – I kept expecting someone to check my history and give me a ruler slap, especially during football season. I love the outlet witty banter this site can provide.

  5. Jessie Lou says:

    I should have said outlet FOR witty banter that this site can provide.

    I never read Lord of the Flies either and am thinking maybe I should.

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