The rules have never been good to me. I’ve tried to follow them at various points throughout my life…but it just rarely worked out. Obeying the rules has done little in the way of shaping who I have become.
I’ve tried the rules on and found them to be an awkward fit. I did my best to play it off and look like I knew what I was doing but I never did. In the midst of that honest observation I discovered that nobody else has a clue what they are doing either.
I still remember the point in my life when I first came to the understanding that the rules were a huge bluff. A smoke screen to attempt to get me to fall in line and not ask too many questions. It was at this point I first realized that everyone is more or less flying by the seat of their pants building sand castles trying to convince everyone they’ve built something stable. Constructing a complex system of rules to protect this fragile existence.
I first came to this place in my life in second grade. I was in a strict catholic school in Chicago that was a palace of rules. For reasons I never quite understood, but I hope to get a handle on one day, I saw through the facade. What I saw behind the rules was….nothing. I added up the cost of playing their game and doing their homework and it was a zero sum in my young mind.
So I stopped playing the game.
We were given these pink sheets that contained our homework at regular intervals. We were to take them home and return them to a basket in the classroom at the end of the week. I concluded that the system did not build in any consequence that I could see for not complying and I thought the work to be rather boring so after the first couple weeks I stopped bringing my pink sheet home and instead crammed it into the back of my little desk immediately upon receiving it.
There the pink sheets piled up, week after week. I don’t remember ever sweating it for even a second; and this is coming from a boy who, in matters of harm to others, had a heavy conscience.
The bi-annual parent teacher conference came up and there I sat in the corner of the room while my mother talked with my teacher on one end and my father sitting at my desk pulling piles of crumpled pink sheets out. All three visibly upset and doing their best to make clear the fact.
I don’t remember any consequences of that day, I’m sure there were some. I do know that I was moved on to third grade when the time came. What trouble I may have conjured on myself for my actions I have long since forgotten.
What I do remember is this; I called their bluff and it felt good. They built a system that had gone unchallenged for so long they weren’t sure how to react when it was. They failed me at the point of helping me understand why the pink sheets mattered. I learned more about life and people in that interaction than all the pink sheets in the world could teach me. Was I in the right? Probably not.
Since then I’ve grown much wiser and I can say I choose my battles much more carefully.
The thing the rules have taught me is to ask why. If the why question can’t be answered, and in the answering have weight that matters, then I am uninterested in your rules.