Teri Orr: Rules are made…
June 13, 2014
"I can’t do anything about that," the man said into the phone to me. "There are rules involved here and rules can’t be broken." It was such an antiquated expression and thought process and so foreign to me at this stage in my life, I just looked into the phone and ended the call. And instead of being mad… I got the giggles.
Later the same week, an entertainment lawyer from out-of-state said to me, "I don’t think you understand the rules involved here." As if, I really didn’t somehow understand, that because his client had made a giant error, it was somehow supposed to be my fault. As if, the threats and intimidation and talk of "rules" was somehow going to get me to reverse my fully defensible actions.
It’s not that I just feel a need to break them all but I am a child of the ’60s. I didn’t burn my bra, I just threw it away for a while. And I marched. For and against rules that needed to be broken often and sometimes upheld.
Sure, I understand that without a stop sign, chaos ensues. And we pay for what we need and take from a store. I get all that. But when small-minded people cannot find reasonable, mutually beneficial solutions, they shrink to autocratic language by default. And they shrink in statue when they result to bullying.
I have grown up in eras of civil rights and unjust wars. Of unequal pay and separate water fountains. Of sexuality norms defined by narrow thinkers. Of women’s reproductive rights being decided by men. Of marijuana use and possession, sentencing people to prison and then, helping children with epilepsy. Of men walking on the moon seemingly against rules of gravity. And discovering that if you don’t have hole in the plastic, a Twinkie will maintain it’s scary spongy shape against the laws of the universe and nature for… ever.
I love eating dinner for breakfast — leftover Chinese food being my personal favorite. I have been known to serve chocolate cake to my grandchildren for the first meal of the day — not all the time, but enough to be just unpredictable enough, they feel giddy at "breaking a rule."
It is healthy to encourage a bit of anarchy from time to time.
So when someone resorts to "because it is The Rule," I have to try very hard not to laugh out loud. It always sounds like… "because I lack the imagination to find a creative solution to this problem, I will just attempt to shut down the conversation by force." You see this happen often in politics. Certainly business. In school settings where creativity should thrive. In government.
i imagine ee cummings must have laughed often as he wrote (much to the dismay of those around him) eschewing rules of capitalization and punctuation and even rhyme..like Cor
Jazz is a kind of music without rules but it only works if you understand the rules as a basis for breaking them. Great modern dance breaks the rules of ballet and then reinvents the form, putting the pieces back together in a thrilling way.
Don’t color in the lines and don’t manicure your yard, the surprises and beauty come in the wildness of breaking those rules.
Good children should always obey the rules. Why? So they can rebel later? Stifle their creativity and joie de vivre? Break the bedtime rule, the clean room rule, the everything-on-your-plate rule. Watch what freedom brings from time to time.
I love living in an age when rules are being broken every day about long-held beliefs and about laws of physics and technology and communications and science and medicine and what month it is finally acceptable to wear white shoes.
"There are rules involved here and rules can’t be broken." Not only CAN they be broken, often they SHOULD be broken. Make new rules if you need rules like a roundabout instead of all stop signs, a more creative solution to the stop and go and fairness issue of traffic. Take the rules out of the kitchen and you create new recipes. Take the rules out of fashion and you, well, dress comfortably.
The rules about communication broke when the computer worked its way into common usage. The beautiful handwritten note on fine stationary was the invitation, thank you, inquiry and notice of a passing. (And just for the record, I miss that greatly. Nothing brings me more joy than a handwritten note.) But we more quickly communicate across oceans and time zones with the speed of send. And the rules of the postal service, for how much those words weigh and should cost, has lost its power over us.
Inventions come from broken rules. Great art, broken rules. New policies, broken rules.
Rules are guidelines, not cement boxes. Rules give a baseline for decent behavior to one another but free will requires we consider those rules often and see if the circumstances have changed to make the rules outdated. Moot.
There is a young mother in my neighborhood with three children under ten years old. She handles her role with aplomb. On occasion she has sprung her older children from elementary school, much to their surprise, and taken them for tiny trips, alone. One to the exhibit of the Titanic in Las Vegas and one to a roller coaster adventure, to understand physics and just to reward him for his hard work. She is breaking the rules of parenting and routine and what constitutes education. I wish I had done more of that when my kids were young.
The next time someone tries to stop your progress in any fashion and uses the old, "because it is The Rule" nonsense on you, consider three new ways you can find a solution around that. Your creative soul and your mental health state will kick in to support you, any day you try even on a Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.