Sometimes you gotta work with what you’ve got

A storybook called Rules by Cynthia Lord came across my path recently. The story is about Catherine, and her school holiday. Her best friend is away for the holiday, but they have new neighbours and she intends to become really good friends with Kirsti and still have fun. The twist on the story is that she has an autistic brother, David, who always creates embarrassments for her and ruins things. To mix things up a bit more she meets another boy, James, at her brother’s speech therapist with whom she becomes good friends. He is in a wheel chair and cannot speak, but he uses a communication book with words in that he points at to communicate. Catherine is an excellent artist and enhances the boring word cards that James’ mother has made for him by adding pictures to the cards, and creating a whole bunch of new cards which gives him a bigger vocabulary. It’s a short story, I read it in a couple of hours, and found the ending a bit blunt, but the insights in the story is making my head spin.

The main theme of the story is the set of rules Catherine lives her life by. Her brother, David, understands rules and this is a tool they use to teach him how to live life, behave in public, treat people.
If someone says ‘hi’, say ‘hi’ back.
We all actually have a set of rules, for ourself, for our partners, for our family, for our friends, for our work colleagues. Then there are rules that are enforced on us, rules of the country, our working environment, our society, our religion, our family for us, our partners for us. What stood our for me in this story is how some of the rules we create for ourselves we create because we believe it will make us fit into society.

A boy can take his shirt off to swim, but not his shorts.It’s fine to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.Don’t open doors at other people’s houses.

These are some of the rules that Catherine teaches David. The first one I can buy into, not always proper to take off shorts, but how often do we see a tv ad where people run stripped naked into a sea and it brings back those feel good feelings? The second and third rule are typical of what we think society expects of us. The clerk will probably think you’re crazy if you hug her, but maybe she’s having a bad day and it’s all she needs to cheer her up. My rule would be Ask permission before you hug anyone. Same with the doors, if people understand that David’s thing is opening cupboard doors, they will probably understand.

No dancing unless I’m alone in my room and it is pitch black dark.

For the first time in my life I’m looking at my rules and wondering how many of the rules I have are really serving me. Don’t make people angry, and when you do, fix it immediately. This specific rule means I have navigated my life around people, tip toeing around other people’s emotions and their rules. This is a futile exercise because I don’t know even a tenth of their rules. Secondly, they base their rules on how they perceive life, and I am not serving them by trying to protect them from life. Most importantly though, I am complicating my life as much as Catherine does by doing things because I think it is what people want. I should be doing things because I want to do it. In the story Catherine worries that Kirsti won’t like her and therefore hides a lot of information about James. She also cuts visits short or avoids visit because she is constantly worried about how David will embarrass her. Her mother reasons that people understand, but in her head Catherine responds that people don’t invite them over because of David.

Don’t talk about yourself or events in your life, people don’t want to be bored

Is it true that some people won’t want to become friends, undoubtedly yes it is. But it is also true that the friends who are really worthwhile will not only appear when you are authentic, but they will be better friends than those who were friends with the fake you. The lesson I learned from the story, is that when you are fake and the truth comes out, some people will leave your life because they won’t like that you couldn’t be open and honest with them, for whatever reason. Some people will leave because they can’t handle the new and improved you, but some may stay and actually become more valuable friends than they were before.

Don’t act different to the people around you in any social setting or public place, you don’t want to stand out.
To be successful you need to go to school, then university, then get a job and work yourself up.

Then there are the rules that aren’t written in a public rule book but we all seem to buy in to. Some of them are behaviour and attitude based, some of them determine to a very large scale the decisions we make in our life. What strikes me is that it seems to me that the people who break all the rules are the ones who stand out, but for some reason we still believe it is better to keep to these unwritten rules. I’m sure Martin Luther King not only broke a whole bunch of government laws when doing what he did, but I can think of a number of other rules – don’t question the way things are, do as you are told, if you stand out in the crowd they will crucify you. What about Jesus Christ? Yes he was eventually killed due to breaking these rules, but look at the difference he made? In today’s world I think you are going to have to push really hard off the beaten track to be crucified, but still we decide to follow these unwritten rules.

Don’t randomly dance at work when song of the day is playing

At the moment I find cross roads almost every day where I decide whether I will stick to a rule that I think society expects from me or whether I will break it. Most days I still conform, but the last two weeks has shown me that not conforming will take me a lot further. I guess a good place to start is knowing what these rules are for me, and how they have served me to date, so I’ll start a little rule book. Then I can work with them.

You will always be expected to give accurate timelines with little to no information

Some rules are in place in black and white, like our country laws, our work policies. One of the things I was taught at Harlequin is that when I make these rules my rules, I will be able to intimately get to know them, and understand their boundaries. Only once I understand the boundaries, I will know how I can push these boundaries. One of the rules I’m battling with big time at the moment is that I my company expects me to work over weekends when projects go in or major infrastructure updates are done. My approach till now has been to delegate my responsibility, using the excuse that I cannot really do anything as I am not the technical person who can fix things. The fact is that I’m very strong at coordinating and sometimes that is what solves the problem. So ignoring the rule isn’t the answer. These rules are probably the ones that trip me up the most, because I feel powerless over them, but if I buy into taking responsibility for my life, I have to make them my rules too. I have no idea how I’m going this, but I do know I have to try something different from what I have been doing. I have always been rebellious against these types of rules, but what I find interesting is that at the same time I’m also a fabulous enforcer of these types of rules. Maybe there’s something in that I’m not seeing?

Just because I don’t know the answer doesn’t mean I cannot do something about the problem


2 thoughts on “Rules

  1. Hi Maria

    And again your block makes an interesting and thought provoking read. Thanks.

    Eckhart Tolle’s book the new earth speak to the “rules” as “rolls” that we take on when interacting with people. These rolls coven the hour rules set when interacting with people and this generally complicates things.

    My suggestion is not to make a rule book but to burn the rule book and find hour self’s so that we can interact with real people and not with rolls and rules and stuff.

    Okker Botes

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