Archive for the ‘rules’ Category

When the heat from lava began to melt the bottoms of our shoes, we knew it was time to head for cooler ground. We were hiking the Kilauea volcano on the big island of Hawaii, and the black lava field we were making our way through at dusk was filled with little rivulets of lava, break outs and pop ups.

I looked around for a park ranger —  none — and thought, “Should they even allow us to walk out here?” You’d expect a rule, a national park rule, to protect us from the fire, a verbal fence, maybe even a real one, to keep us from being stupid. There was none.

I was suprised. I live in a world full of rules and  make up a few myself now and then.

“Take my arm,” I said, and guided her hand to grip my bicep like a hand rail. Then my daughter and I stepped out into the street. I often do this with her often, because she is disabled and unsteady, and also unobservant. Brain damage. When you are brain-damaged, rules help. They take the place of thinking. They protect.

“The deposits go in this tray,” I said, “the bills in this tray, and the treasurer’s paperwork goes here.” I was explaining to one of the office staff  our new system of organizing financial paperwork. Rules, scripted behavior, categories — they work to keep from things getting lost, to keep order, to prevent bad accounting. Rules organize us. Rules are the magic wand whereby we zap chaos into order. But they can do more than that.

“I’ll do the dishes,” I said, “since you cooked.” Usually I don’t even have to say it. It’s a tacit rule, often unspoken but fully operational in my family, “The cook shall not do the dishes.” Rules, about who does the dishes  — they tend to make for good relationships; they may even make things fair — when followed. They other night my wife cooked and did the dishes.  I thanked her as I headed out the door, on the run. She said that she wanted to do the all this. I let her, want to, and do it —  I let her break the rule.

There are lots of good reasons to have rules, for protection, for order, for good relationships, but there are also some fine reasons not to live by them.

One reason involves the distinctly idiosyncratic nature of people and life.

When the mom didn’t want to move her preschooler to the kindergarten class because she believed that her little one was not socially ready to move up, then we, as leaders of the organization, gave the mother and child respect, and relief from the “promotion” rule in play. The little one stayed where she felt safe. That’s good. Organizations with no flexibility, without a brain, without the eyes to see that it is best to do something different in a particular case, become oppressive and harmful to unique personalities.

Wise by eyes; fools by rules.

Sometimes I think that we have ruined the world with bad rules, rules about what women can and cannot do, rules about what men can and cannot do, rules about what is spiritual and what is not,  rules about what certain racial groups can and cannot do, rules about who can live where and who can do what, how, and when and with whom and for how long!

The development of civilization is the multiplication of rules. Many of those rules began with what was thought to be protection, but in time became brutal oppression, for instance, the tacit, long-standing rule that women must present themselves as both attractive and submissive to men, whatever the personal cost to themselves and their children.

It’s estimated that something like 40,000 new laws went into effect in the United States in 2012, for example, the 100 watt incandescent light bulb can no longer be manufactured. I suppose that’s good, to save energy, but at the heart of the issues is the need to promote and preserve good thinking. If I can see for myself that the fluorescent bulb is cheaper and longer lasting than the incandescent bulb, I will choose to replace mine under my own volition and energy. Consumer choice ultimately rules the markets. Consider the black market that always exists for what people really want.

Often common sense and love will do just a nicely as a pack of rules, usually better. The problem with rules is that they don’t much motivate people. The value in thinking is that once you decide, with your own observation and good thinking, that a course of action is good, then you will be motivated to carry that thinking out. Rules require, but visions inspire.

When Jesus himself spoke about the many laws of the Jews, he reduced them all to two, really to one — love. Love God, love your neighbor. Love, he said, was the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets.

For Jesus, love decimated all rules but itself. The religious people didn’t like that. Neither did the government. They still don’t. Governments and religions love rules. They use rules to control people. They use rules to maintain power. They use rules to opperess. But love doesn’t control others;  it certainly doesn’t oppress. it sets people free.

I have a fondness for a few rules, especially the ones I make up, like don’t eat all the ice cream before I get a bowl. And I certainly like it when people stop at red lights and obey speed limits. It keeps me safer.  I live by a lot of rules, as we all do,  but many of the rules of the organizations that organize our lives increasingly seem to me to be hot beds of irresponsibility. People let rules do their thinking for them. People blindly follow rules that harm other people and ruin everyone’s opportunities to develop.

Too many rules, too fiercely enforced, can keep people from  learning from their mistakes, from suffering  the consequences of their bad choices, from learning  for themselves and from trying new, good things. We need some rules, but I much prefer that we promote more good observing, some fine analysis, some clear thinking, some exceptions to the rules when that works best, and a bit more taking personal responsibility for life without being forced to do so by rules.

To be really honest, I really don’t so much care for rules and I don’t like policing other people when they break them. I much prefer rule-free relationships, and far above law, I’ll stand with Jesus, and hold high the banner of love.

And I like it too, when I get a chance to gawk freely,  even with some minor risk, at the fiery red and orange glow of the beautiful, dangerous lava. Then I know I’ve lived a little.





Marital status.

National origin.



Sexual orientation.

These are sometime the basis for unlawful, socially harmful discrimination.

I’ve been discriminated against. When I was a teacher,  I remember one of my students looking me in the eye, glaring and saying, “You’re not capable of understanding.” Then I knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of racism.

For me and for most of us, discrimination is something we think of  other people doing.  They are racists, bigots, fanatics, the unjust. But it is a symptom of the disease of unlawful or harmful discrimination not to see it in ourselves. With our “they” we  poke out our own eyes.

To actually experience condescension in our own voices, say when speaking to a sixteen-year-old or an eighty-seven year old or a disabled person, is harder.

We may also experience it in our silence. I noticed at one point that I spoke less to my daughter’s friend who can’t speak, than to her other friends. Why? He can’t speak back, so I felt awkward. I decided to change. Why shouldn’t he receive my attention as much as any of her other friends. It’s been a nice change for me. I have my own “way” with him now. We laugh a lot, together.

I know a young woman who in her twenties looks ten years younger. When she asks for help while shopping for clothes, store clerks sometimes ask her where her mom is or direct her to the “younger department.” She knows what it’s like to experience age discrimination, and while one might easily defend the clerks as having no way of knowing, such situations bring to light how easily we slight others and don’t  know it.

It’s subtle. I have felt a distancing going on in my mind as certain people have approached me. An observation of size or disability or age has  sometimes shot a small dose of fear or repulsion into me. I hate having to admit this, but my first impressions have sometimes been based  completely on superficial and  automatic distinctions.  And I don’t always catch on to the fact that I have done this.

Sometimes our racial or social distinctions seem to us to be  wise notations of  differences. We think of ourselves as understanding. We make a capability clarification or a  role clarification; we see our discrimination  as a necessity that reflects physical reality.  “There are differences between men and women.” As such, our discrimination begin disguised as enlightenment.

I remember in my younger days thinking that I wouldn’t go to a church that was pastored by a woman. I based this on an interpretation of scripture. I based it on no experience. I had none. I based this on my own insecurity. I based this on what other men and women that I knew said they believed.  Now I would gladly go to a church pastored by a woman, and now I can present a strong scriptural basis for this and now I am surrounded by other people who affirm this. It is so important to be able to change, to be able to shed former boxes of constricted and harmful thinking.

I have had to grow into the realization that different should not be disallowed. I have had to flight past social taboo and come out free to accept as women as equals and their contribution as enriching.

The truth is that we too often hide our “put downs”  in religious mandates, governmental programs, institutional values and herd mentalities.  “They can’t” or we “must not” or “God doesn’t want'” can be simply disguises for insecurity, fear and selfishness.

Discrimination often functions within social expectations and rules.  It is better to hear than to sign. It is better to see than to be blind. It is better to be light-skinned than dark. It is better to be rich than poor. It is better to be educated than not.

What is needed is a definition of what it means to not discriminate.

To not discriminate is to experience someone different from you and to not see them as less than you.

To not discriminate is to hire a person who is in some way the opposite of you,  and not compete with or intimidate that person. It is when an extroverted leader hires an introverted leader to enrich the emotional depth and quality of the organization.

To not discriminate is for a man to see a woman as his equal, fully empowered, taking her place in the family or the organization and being treated as in no way inferior or lesser or weaker or more emotional. It is for her not to be dominated and controlled or put in a limiting box.

To not discriminate is to treat the school smart daughter the same as the daughter who is in special education and to affirm them both, equally and to see that smart is not better it is just different and kind is not better either it is just a quality that some have more than others.

To not discriminate is to see a court case where the one charged is Hispanic and the one dead is black and to not see this as a brown versus black issue but a right or wrong issue that must be given a process that has as its goal the truth and justice and love.

The truth is that it is always a fight for the truth.

And the truth is that it is hard not to discriminate, that we all tend towards it, and that maturity and personal growth always involve movement toward loving other people more.

The beginning of the end of discrimination?

Think of it as something that you, not just “they” struggle with.

You Got Me Beggin’

Posted: December 7, 2009 in rules
Tags: , , ,

I love the rules.  I love the rules that bring order and safety to intersections, business and games. I love the rules that protect, that have regard for what is true and good.

I want regulation of the food industry. I want a no-face-mask rule in football. I love a red light that keeps someone from crashing us both where the streets cross.

I hate the rules. 

I hate the rules that exclude, the rules that crush difference and diversity, the rules that hammer people who don’t fit the mold.

And I hate it when we beat people up with exclusionary rules.

When I see that, I hope to see someone bring to the table, something different, something like mercy.

Duffy, the Welsh singer and songwriting phenomenon, gives modern expression to a mercy cry. She sings,“You got me beggin’ for mercy, why won’t you release me.” 

Portia, in the Merchant of Venice speaks of the salutary benefits of it, saying,“[Mercy] is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

 The church sings, “Kýrie, eléison. Lord have mercy!”  

What is mercy?

Mercy is an antibiotic for failure, a remedy for our failures to keep the rules, and for our failures in applying the rules.  When we fail, mercy has power to restore.

Recently I had an infection in a tooth. The doctor gave me Erythromycin. The pain and infection stopped.

I like to think of mercy as divine Erythromycin.  Where there is the infection of failure, mercy can lessen pain and punishment. When guilt from mistakes attacks, mercy can help fight off condemnation. Mercy is compassion, made visible.

When we break the rules, mercy applied has  antimicrobial action; by forgiving it brings  amnesty to suffering, and by acquitting it brings healing to crushed psyches.  Mercy begets mercy. It inspires a future of magnanimous choices.

This isn’t abstract. Every day we choose.  Every day we judge each other and when there is failure we chose, consequences,  no consequences, punishment, no punishment.  And when all is said and done, in the aftermath, we forgive or we don’t forgive. We keep jumping on the mistake, or we erase it with mercy.

The opposite of mercy is harshness. Somewhere between the two is justice. We must constantly be deciding, to stick to what is right, to figure out what is fair, to apply consequences where this is appropriate, to make exceptions where this is right and good, to judge, to acquit and to live with each other afterwards — or not. 

It is a judgment, when to apply mercy and when to punish. 

But the thing is, history would suggest that most of us are not in danger of being to merciful.

There is a kind of circle to this thing too, to keep in mind. The mercy that goes around comes around. And the harshness that goes around comes around too,  hard and fast and blunt.

We often get what we give. It’s enough to make you pause before you swing.