I find comfort in rules. Rules are part of systems. Systems attempt to address randomness. Right now the systems that have been a large part of my life are breaking down. I welcome the possibility that with this breakdown will come new systems that better serve those who have so often been marginalized in society.
Natural systems are based on science and the physical order of things. For example our bodies have a circulatory system that makes sure our cells are fed and waste products are removed. Photosynthesis is a system in nature whereby plants use carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. Our planet is part of a Solar System that exists as a result of a systematic progression from events beginning with the theorized Big Bang. We are in a climate emergency right now. Humans have interfered to such an extent with natural systems, that problems around the world have become systemic. Radical change in our cultural and governmental systems is required for our planet’s very survival
Human constructed systems are created to keep things moving. They are often based on what is considered the norm. Human behaviour is often considered when constructing systems: Picture a Bell Curve. The majority of the population will be in the middle hump of 80%. Some of the best systems are the ones that have a plan for the fringe elements of the ten percent on either side of the hump. Rules must be kept flexible if the outliers are to survive. This group of people suffer the most when human systems break down. There’s irony here since economically the richest one percent is technically in a fringe zone. The obscenely wealthy hardly need protection from the slanted economic system from which they profit. These folks own and control so much that I would argue that some sort of equalization rules need to be established. Let’s call these rules, fair taxation.
My local hospital recently initiated a system to deal with people entering their emergency wing. They called it a Rapid Assessment and Discharge Unit. This particular system, as in many others, relies on professionals being efficient. My recent experience proved the opposite of the Unit’s intent as the rules were so strict that my assessment depended on a cavalier doctor. My recovery ended up taking longer as a direct result of this medical system failing me.
I once volunteered with my wife as a coat check for a local charity event. We arrived early to the function only to find no system in place to accurately account for the coats. Quickly we made up duplicate tickets from a wheel of paper stubs, organized the coat racks to visually track times of entry, found more hangers and created a secure perimeter. We were ready! We had systematically created and ticked off all the required boxes to success.
We are all responsible to some degree for system failure so we must all find a role to play in resolving issues before they become systemic. That can mean speaking up, acting out or voting in. It’s our world too and we have a part in protecting it and defining it for ourselves and for future generations.
The first time I played Scrabble with my future mother-in-law I told her about our modified house rules. She said, “Hmm, I’ll stick to the original ones.” Changing the rules for playing a game brings me pleasure. I’m not a ‘Rules are Meant to be Broken’ advocate yet I think they are meant to be tested. How else do you know it’s a good rule?
On a visit to the Tate Modern Gallery in London, England I was closely watched by the security team after I had been reminded by an official to not touch a statue. I had ignored the sign; ‘Please do not touch the works of art on display. Even clean hands can damage surfaces.’ I felt compelled by the sensuous curve of the metal and stone fabrication. Shame on me.
Making your own set of rules and keeping them consistently can be a difficult proposition. Self imposed rules are hard to make and hard to keep. We all have some personal rules that we keep sacred; like never lie, never cheat etc. I try to keep the special set of rules which I live by in order to feel I can be trusted by others. It is important for me to be dependable so my opinion can have a high level of credibility. A set of rules can enhance my personal authority. But what is authority anyway?
Cultural rules can change quickly. It didn’t take long for cigarette smoking to turn from ‘anywhere, anytime’ to a strictly regulated behaviour. We still use the expression ‘Rule of Thumb’ when we talk about a baseline for behaviour yet the origin of that phrase came from the thickness of wooden rod a husband could legally use to beat his wife. I remember Sadie Hawkins events when I went to high school; making a ceremony out of women choosing who they might date while restricting the amount of female participation in the game of love. Now we have relevant discussions about consent within a #metoo focus.
In democratic countries we elect our Rulers; those who we allow to have authority over us. Previous generations were instructed to have respect for the Ruling Class. To be loyal to their King and Country. ‘Rule Britannia’, as an example of colonialist fervour, was positive for only a few. ‘Make America Great Again’, as a slogan, can also be an expression of a rule of engagement that creates imbalance in the great wide and diverse world that we currently share. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akbzRuZmqVM .
Often we don’t get a choice in politics. We may choose to believe that we collectively put our leaders on the metaphorical throne but in today’s world it is truer to acknowledge that others behind the scenes really control political outcomes. As a result of this interference with the rules of law, we find ourselves with rulers who may flout what many of us see as important rules of etiquette. Perhaps we collectively need to get better at who we select to be the boss of us.
My mother set conditions for me. She left me chores to be completed before she got home from work. The moment I got home from school it was a race to avoid a confrontation. If the tasks weren’t done she would deliver a cold shoulder that felt like a biblical shunning.
Consequently, as an adult, I think of conditions as a way to avoid consequences. When I set a condition for myself then I feel I’ve prepared the way for fewer avoidable consequences. For example when I ride my motor scooter I have a sensible condition that I can’t ride unless I wear my helmet. I’d love to not wear my helmet for the feeling of the wind in my hair. However the consequence of me not wearing my helmet is painfully obvious. Similarly, I see what the weather conditions are like before I plan what to wear. The activity I choose to do in my day is conditional on my state of health or mood. Determining what condition your condition is in might be a good start to everyday. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfa6umSlR8A
When I became a parent of young children the rules (conditions) I set for them were all about avoiding the probability of consequences. Those rules were not always about safety. For example, when they were old enough to have an allowance, this payment was conditional on an amount set aside for giving to others and saving for a rainy day. When they grew older there was an expectation that they would contribute to the family well being by helping out around the house. At one point when they were all teens, I wrote a ‘family manifesto’ and taped it to their bedroom doors. It outlined the conditions of residence (open to further discussion) that could be considered ground rules to avoid conflict.
I guess it’s clear I don’t believe unconditional love exists for me. Certainly I would never set conditions for loving a baby and I know most societies hold unconditional love as inviolate. But really? Don’t we set conditions for our romantic partners, our elders in nursing care, our preschoolers, our spouses, our pet, our bank advisor? My love is too valuable not to set conditions, for myself or for others.
Conditions are a part of love. I may be disappointed in others, as they may be with me. It doesn’t stop me from setting conditions, at least in my head. I value contribution as well as love. They are both part of the condition of our existence. Everyone is unique and we all have a responsibility to share our talents.
If unconditional love does exist it was practised humbly and consistently by Fred Rogers. On television and real life his message was simple: He told children he loved them just the way they were.
Some suggested this credo takes away the need for individual effort. Nonsense! Love is a powerful thing and is conditional for the building of responsible human beings.