Learn the Rules and then Learn How to Break Them



Today’s recurring theme with me is “learn the rules and then learn how to break them.”

I was listening to a podcast by Andy Stanley this morning, who was talking about how Jesus broke the rules. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the rules. He did. And He abided by the ones that made sense. But He also knew which ones no longer applied. And He broke them. In the end, He told people that all those rules that had been handed down were antiquated and no longer were needed, as long as you knew and understood The One Rule: Love Thy Neighbor as You Love Yourself.

Now. this is a complicated rule. This means that you have to look at every other rule differently. Is that rule just? Is it fair? Is it kind? Does it make sense? If it doesn’t give me the freedoms I deserve, it wouldn’t give her the freedoms she deserves, and so therefore, it doesn’t apply.

I could really go off on a tangent here, so if you want to look deeper into the state of affairs for women in the United States, I wrote this about the latest anti-female laws here, and you can simply follow my Instagram for my semi-regular push back on laws that discriminate.

But as I listened to Stanley, I thought about all rules. Aren’t all rules like that?

When we were kids, what were rules for?

Basically, they existed to keep us alive.

  • don’t run in the street
  • don’t touch a hot stove
  • don’t play with matches
  • don’t pinch your sister

We learned how the world worked with basic operational tools, which were our rules to live by, right? We needed to learn them. And the consequences were pain and sometimes a form of punishment to help us understand the severity of the rule at hand.

School was similar. We needed boundaries or we wouldn’t learn.

  • don’t talk while the teacher is talking
  • don’t run around the classroom
  • don’t throw things
  • don’t run with scissors

The boundaries helped us survive.

But what about when we learned the basic principles of being alive and a member of society… what then? Should we still be playing by old school rules?

Would it have helped your education if at some point, you were allowed to speak up in class, move around the classroom, or do your project outside the lines?

What about at work?

After all, if we don’t speak up at the business meeting, we’ll never be heard. If we don’t speak up when something needs to be said, someone could get hurt.

In most disciplines, you learn the rules first, and then you learn how to break them.

Case in point: music composition.

In music school, you go through 2 grueling years of music theory. How to follow the music rules laid out by Sir J.S. Bach, who made the rules literally hundreds of years ago.

Then, in theory year 3, you learn that modern composers break those rules. They have to. If they don’t, music doesn’t evolve.

The importance isn’t the breaking of the rules; it is this:

  1. know and understand the rule
  2. use the rule
  3. understand what is not useful about the rule
  4. break the rule to create something new

Never to create something bad, to hurt anyone, or to just be a jerk. But if we don’t break rules… what then? We still sit around the organ and sing Bach chorales?

The same is true if you look at the history of dance, theatre, writing, and other creative studies.

Heck, look at the history of sports. American football has had to adjust rules over the years as the game has elevated, thanks to the innovation of athletic studies.

What about us? What about society? What about change?

Listening to Stanley this morning, I was like; if this really was our principle: love thy neighbor as you love yourself, or if you don’t want a Christ spin on it, you could say “treat everyone as they need to be treated for their well-being,” then we wouldn’t need gigantic rule books. If we were creating boundaries for specific purposes, it would have to pass that one simple litmus test.

And if it didn’t, we would break that rule until it would be changed or abolished altogether.

The reality is that we do actually evolve that way. And we are evolving by questioning those antique rules. “Why is it that way? What would evoke equality while keeping everyone safe? What would elevate our standard of living? What would progress us forward as a thinking people?” And run the litmus test. Is it truly right and fair for everyone involved?

What would that change for us? How would we behave differently toward each other? How would we then feel about our own “rules” and “laws?”

It seems like that’s where we’re going… that is actually where humanity wants to go, it seems. It also seems that the louder humanity gets and the more connected we get and the more we push toward a truly cohesive world, the louder and angrier the oppressors get.

That battle is far from over. We are seeing the signs that it will continue to get worse before it gets better. The loud minority of hate and injustice appears to get some battle wins.

But they can’t win the war if there isn’t one.

When everyone wins, there is no war.

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