Rules and polite society
Can you be a gentle rebel?
Hi Saturday Saints & Sinners!
When do you obey, and when do you revolt?
I’ve probably mentioned this story here before. But, here it is again anyway.
When I was sixteen or seventeen, my exasperated father told me, “The trouble with you is that you think if you believe a rule is stupid, it doesn’t apply to you.”
I think he was trying to reprimand me. But it was the first glimmer I had that he understood anything about me. That was indeed exactly how I felt.
Now I’m safely middle-aged, and that sentence still describes a lot of my behavior—with a few exceptions. I try to carefully follow rules that help protect other people, or that allow us to live together as a safe community. I observe public health protections as best as I can, I generally follow traffic laws, and I wait in line patiently when waiting to get into a venue.
But obedience has never been reflexive for me, and it never will be.
The middle school my two younger children, G and T, attend has started a zero-tolerance tardy policy. If you are late for any reason, you get lunch detention. I am punctual to a fault. However, my two younger children also carpool with E, who, as I’ve noted before, has some health issues, and sometimes we leave the house a little late.
I told G and T that if it ever looks like they are going to be late, instead of dropping them off, we’ll take E to school first and maybe get some Starbucks or something. Then I will take them to school and explain they had an appointment. This means they won’t be tardy.
I take this same approach to my creative work.
Seth Godin, in his book, The Practice, talks about the importance of knowing what is in the box before trying to think outside of the box.
He argues that creativity is less about originality than it is about empathy. You have to deeply understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and then you can use old tools in new ways or make better tools to solve the problem.
Filmmaker Rian Johnson is my favorite recent example of this. His Knives Out movies have all the tropes a cozy mystery is supposed to have, but he has a unique spin on the old formula that makes his films incredibly entertaining and satisfying.
What do you think about rules and creativity?