Sunday, January 20, 2013

Breaking the Rules

            Most people have rules for how you must relate to them. There are the Primary Rules, such as don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Then there are the Secondary Rules. For example, Don’t ever raise your voice at me; Always be on time; Tell me I am good looking at least once a day; When I ask you a question, you must answer me instantly; Never point out my weaknesses; Laugh at all my jokes.
One of the problems with our Secondary Rules is treating them as if they were Primary Rules, so that failure to obey them will get the rule-breaking sinners excommunicated from our presence, or at least sent to their room for a time-out. But do we really want to treat “raising your voice at me” as if it were the same as “stealing from me”?
Another problem with Secondary Rules is that we are often not conscious of them. To us they are presuppositions that are so unquestionably true that we do not even think of them. Never have. Well, not until someone crosses us and then our anger is screaming: “Look here! Why it’s one of your rules being broken!” (I have a theory here that says the more Secondary Rules you have, the fewer the friends, but that’s a topic for another day.)
The next time you choose to erupt in anger at someone who has broken the rules for being allowed to occupy your world and live in peace, STOP! Take a breath. Now. Ask yourself:

Is this a Primary or Secondary Rule and am I responding accordingly?
Did this person know about these rules?
Did she, he, or they agree to abide by them?

I wonder if it would help here, if, once you become aware of a Secondary Rule, you would place it in a category titled, Preferences. And it would definitely be useful if you would have conversations with your loved ones about these Preferences. After you’ve calmed down, of course.
My experience is that more relationships are busted up by conflicts over Secondary Rules than by Primary ones. Worse, the offenders were quite often clueless about the rule until they had broken it. But they should have known. After all, everyone knows this is a rule. Come on. If Moses were alive today, he would have chiseled this one onto the stone tablets.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Monte,

    Excellent post and very practical advise. We all have rules (individuals do and organizations do) but often we are not aware of them because we learned them early in life on a subconscious level.

    At such an early age, we were not able to ask ourselves if the "rule" we learned was useful or not, we simply took it in and embraced it--and then that rule or rules shaped our life.

    Your question about whether others know about our secondary rules is a vital question. It's not fair to hold someone accountable for something we did not let them in on.