Do Rules Work?

Do rules work?

Rules are the lazy approach to trying to change someone else’s behavior.

If you can’t leverage emotional connection, tell a good story about what’s important, or understand what really motivates someone, don’t worry! At least you can leverage your authority.

The 5 paragraph essay is helpful until you understand the importance of how structure helps others understand your writing. Then it doesn’t matter very much, and it might actually hurt your writing.

Not being allowed to drink until you’re 21 years old misses the point if it doesn’t create responsible drinking. If we all go out binge-drinking on our 21st, combine it with operating a motor vehicle, or raid the liquor cabinent when our parents leave town, the rule isn’t worth much.

It doesn’t matter how much spinach your parents made you eat as a kid if you stop once you’re on your own.

A rule limiting how often the television is on is wonderful. But only if it grows into a habit of wanting to create, read a book or get some excercise.

What’s the Big Idea?

Making everything into an easy-to-follow rule (“you can’t do this, you have to do this, this is sin, here are the instructions”) defeats the point: the rules exist to protect some bigger idea.

guidelines rules

Wisdom from Captain Barbossa.

Rules against intrusive government access to our phone calls and internet usage only matter if we actually hold privacy dear. If the response to breaking the rule is moral outrage for a week or a shrug, why the rule, anyway?

Which came first: murder as a faux pas or a murder as a crime?

Make Us Actually Care

I’m told it took awhile for reading as a concept to stick with me. I didn’t get it.

It wasn’t until I was given books with photographs of real things (sharks, plants, airplanes) that it clicked. See Jane Run didn’t do anything for me until I realized that the stuff on the page could be connected to a bigger idea.

Great teachers aren’t great because they teach rules, facts or assign homework (though a great teacher might do all these things). Great teachers are great because they help students love the big idea.

If a teacher helps a student to want to learn, they have succeed. If a student wants to be more creative and generous and insightful and honest, then getting the homework done is a foregone conclusion.

Instead of rules, create values.

If you decide your values first and fashion rules accordingly, the rules are almost an afterthought, or a helpful safety net for when short term emotion makes you question your values. Create values and you’ll be flexible enough to see when rules don’t apply or have been reduced to dogma.

“Because I said so.”

There’s a time for rules. We’ve all either been or dealt with the recalcitrant teenager who asks “Why?” not out of a desire to learn but just to win, express their frustration or get under your skin.

Authority has its place. But it’s better (and lasts longer) to teach. To get someone to understand the value behind the rules. To get them to love the idea behind the rules, to see how some rules make their lives richer. To grow trust and love so that, even if they don’t agree with the rule, they can assume positive intent behind the rule for now.

The bigger the community and the weaker the ties and relationships within the community, the stronger the need for rules. While the group as a whole has decided they share a value, the individuals might not be there yet. NAFTA necessarily has more rules than your 3 person startup.

But don’t kid yourself: “make more rules” is never the answer. The answer is “help us believe more strongly.”

Sure, rules might be the means to that end. But they’re never the point.

[Image source: Nomadic Lass via photopin cc]


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