Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Living with rules

We don't like rules. Rules restrict us. Rules limit us. Rules take away our freedom. Rules hamper our creativity. Rules keep us from living up to our potential.

At least, that's what our society teaches and it's what we'd like to believe.

But the Benedictine life, driven by a list of 73 rules, gives evidence that rules, rightly applied, can give life, can develop potential, can make room for creativity.

The reality of life is that many of us operate under our own set of rules, its just that we never write them down. Our rules are based on our assumptions of the way the world works. Hard work is always rewarded. Being married will make us happy. Loving God will prevent us from suffering. Slow drivers should stay in the right hand lane. The Chicago Cubs will never win the World Series. Whatever I want is what I should get. Power is success. And so on.

I bet that if you wrote down a list of the assumptions and rules you use to run your life, you'd probably come up with a list of 73 yourself. Like for me, I almost always do laundry on Sundays. And I always wash dishes before I go to bed. I walk my dog most mornings. I read the Bible daily. Heck, I know lots of people who essentially have a rule for getting ready in the morning, because they do the same things in the same order every morning. So we all have a rule of life.

Have you ever seen any of Picasso's early art? As you know, he was the great master of the 20th century and one of the masters of Cubism. If you looked at his Cubist works, you'd think that this is a guy who didn't care about the rules of painting at all. But if you see his early work, you'll realize that he was a technically gifted drawer/painter. His non-Cubist paintings reveal that he had mastered the rules of painting. He understood painting so intimately because of his mastery of the fundamentals and his internalization of the rules of art. Only then was he really able to let his creative genius explode in ways in that turned the art world on its head. His mastery of the rules allowed him to be enormously creative.

I personally experience the freedom of communal rules on the soccer field. I know exactly what is allowed and not allowed. I know there are certain things I can do and can't do (or at least I'll be penalized for doing). And so do my opponents. These shared rules allow me the freedom to play without having to worry about whether everyone else is playing by the same rules. The rules allow me to concentrate on the task at hand, to be as creative as my limited skills allow. In fact, most of the anger and anxiety on a soccer field comes when the referee seems to be applying a different set of rules to one team or the other.

So are rules of life bad? If they are meant to control and limit, then likely the answer is yes. But rules that allow us to concentrate on our creativity and our passion, rules that make space for true freedom, those rules can be an amazing source of positive energy.

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