There are so many rules that we live by in our world, that it’s only after you step away from them that you can actually see how many there are!
We have rules imposed on us right away when we are children. Rules in our family, rules at school, rules at church. Rules about holidays, money, and our bodies. When we grow up, there are rules at work and rules we enact in our love relationships. There are rules about weddings, and rules about retirement and death. We recycle this conditioning by keeping the rules going—and setting new ones—when we start families of our own.
Think about the rules you follow that you didn’t learn, but maybe are of your own making. You’ve imposed these on yourself (and, by default, onto others). And don’t forget that all of our numerous federal, state, and local laws are, essentially, rules.
Enough with the rules!
Clearly, there would be anarchy if there were no rules, and many rules are necessary for our safety and protection, and to ensure equity and opportunity. But there seem to be too-harsh social consequences for those who choose to break unwritten codes or rules—also called norms—no matter how small they are. And we beat up ourselves for breaking them, equating that action with failing or disappointing others.
I hesitate to list examples here because social codes vary among regions and nations, and within the various ways we group ourselves in our own areas. So what is an acceptable norm for one group may be completely unacceptable to another. Think about some codes of conduct that are a part of the world that surrounds you. Do you think if you chose to dress differently than everyone else at a certain function, or mustered the courage to tell an authority figure that you don’t agree with him/her, that your world would really end?
It’s no wonder we are stressed out and unhappy, living in constant fear. We are conditioned to follow norms or face various levels of consequence. I’d love to see a graph of a physical response—brain and heart activity—when a person is asked to break specific rules, starting with minor infractions, then sliding along toward greater infractions.
What is the absolute worst consequence if you, for example, told your family you hate the stress of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and you were starting a new tradition to spend alone? Or what if you broke away from your church? What if you took a two-hour lunch break like your boss does? What is the value of your freedom compared to the consequence of expressing yourself?
Picture your first reaction to the idea of choosing another way, then picture yourself acting on it. How do you predict those around you would react? How do you think you’d ultimately feel in the end?
When you remove yourself for a time from this invisible structure that society conforms to, and you go back out there and look around, you see the damage that rules have done. People are like automatons. They aren’t smiling at their jobs or activities, they have a sort of dead expression while they do their work or chores—which they do as a daily routine or some other form of a “schedule”—and there’s no energy of passion in the air!
When the stress of all this is too much to bear, people act out. They get crazy on the roadways, they yell at their team, their students are too much to handle, they hate their families or their spouse, they resent their kids, they secretly plot to get even with their boss…and so on.
This is why people who give up their jobs and backpack around the world, join the Peace Corps for two years to help others, or leave the country to volunteer in disaster-stricken nations often come home and realize how imprisoned they felt in their former lives.
Suddenly “The Rules” seem overbearing, silly and petty. They see that there are important needs in the world—and they don’t involve rules! They may readjust to a prior routine, but that sense of freedom beckons again, maybe a bit sooner than anticipated. Before you know it, they want to shake up their lives again and be free of “The Rules.”
The reason I’m writing this is to help you become aware of how “The Rules” stifle your creative expression. If nobody were judging you, if you had no fear of consequences, how would you do the following?
- Run your classroom
- Create a comfortable work environment and schedule
- Dress for a board meeting, interview or seminar
- Schedule your spiritual activities to meet your own needs or interest
- Celebrate (or not celebrate) annual holidays
- Change your sleep/wake routine
- Let the weather dictate your activities
Do you see where I’m going with this? What if you could teach your kids inside a tipi on the grass instead of at desks in a climate-controlled building? Put a loveseat and coffee table in your office instead of a desk and rolling chair? Wear slippers to a seminar? Spend time in spiritual practice only on Wednesdays—or every day—instead of following a church calendar? Celebrate Halloween in a different month, or skip Christmas three years in a row? What if you napped every afternoon, and worked after dinner? How about walking in the park in the rain without an umbrella, instead of closing all the windows in the house and vowing to go outside “tomorrow” instead?
Behaving in accordance with our social conditioning makes conceiving alternatives to “normal” routines almost impossible. If you haven’t already thought to yourself “You’re crazy, Cheryl” after reading that last paragraph of suggestions, I bet someone would tell you, “You’re crazy, (your name here)” when you try to implement one of them.
Does it matter, though?
And how might things change among those around you if some of “The Rules” were relaxed? What is one big unwritten rule in your life that you think, if you broke it, would have such stressful consequences that you don’t believe you could handle it? What if you choose to relax that rule, or strike it altogether?
If implementation is, in fact, completely impossible for you, and you can find no way to compromise with others to make just one thing you desire a reality, then start closer to home. Open that wellspring of creativity, that place where you’ll find solutions and new ideas, by going there in your imagination. Picture in your mind what your moments would be like if you could orchestrate each and every one of them in the way that you desire.
The more time you spend in wonderment, the more you’ll release that old conditioning and start to see new possibilities. Then what happens is that you’ll begin to see the creative potentials immediately available in your environment, and the next thing you know, you will have the opportunity to step away from “The Rules” and actually *do* what you want, even if it’s just one small thing at first.
So go ahead—I dare you! People might criticize you, but then again, you might be surprised how much others want what you have discovered once they see that it works.
This article Copyright © Cheryl E. Kraynak