Beyond The Rules

TBB had to drive through Daytona last night, while the Daytona 500 was being run.

“I don’t watch NASCAR anymore,”  she told me.  “With all the rules now, there doesn’t seem to be any creativity, like when Smokey Yunick used the frame of his car to store more gas.  The marketers have homogenized the heck out of it, creating formula pap, which sells, but I miss the individuality.”

PerformanceGal gave a workshop on effective presentations and she got some resistance.

“I tried telling them that they get to get to the heart, be authentic to be powerful, but lots of them just kept coming back to the formulas I suggested that they throw out.  They clung to the rules as if the rules would save them, just like in school where rule following was the highest value.”

The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, an improv troupe in NYC just came out with a new manual for improvisers that tells performers the most important thing they can do is follow the rules, according to the New York Times.

This tension between following the rules and being creative has existed throughout history.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
Dalai Lama XIV, 18 Rules For Living

I used to have a collection of Judith Martin’s “Miss Manners” books.  This surprised people who found me transgressive, but to me, the rules of etiquette, of making social situations gracious and comfortable, seem utterly vital to collaboration.  Without some shared rules of decorum, how do we support each other in creation?

We start by being immersed in the rules, learning how to be this or that, but as we achieve mastery we learn where we can bring our own personal creativity in to move beyond the rules.   No one ever won big by just following the rules, which are there to tell you how to avoid losing, but no one ever won big by just not understanding the rules, either.

To me, this isn’t about learning to break rules, rather it is about learning to play beyond the rules.   Beyond the rules is the unexplored territory, deep and fertile, where creation and risk can make new and breathtaking possibilities.   Beyond the rules is where we are forced out of our comfort zone and into our imagination, finding new structures and solutions that amaze and extend.

It is often frustrating to me when others thirst to see the world through a rules mindset, either demanding binary, either/or choices to base their decisions on, or by imposing their expectations and prejudices on the choices of others.  As Byron Katie would tell is, growth depends on first seeing what is, being wise enough to see what cannot change and demands serenity, and what can be changed and demands our strength.

I know that I can’t tell these people to forget the rules, because rules do hold knowledge and truth, taking the best of shared experience and codifying it.  Owning the rules does unlock a great deal of valuable teaching.

I can ask them, though, to go beyond the rules, to go into their heart.   I can ask them to trust that the more deep and personal their expression is, the more it universal it will be, reaching out to touch others hearts, not just giving them another canned, predigested marketing routine.

When we go into the world and all we own is the rules, we will always be put in situations where the rules fail.   We will be challenged beyond our conventions and then will need something to fall back on, something to help us reach out, make a connection and create some new rules, new structures to help us move on.

This, of course, is the outcome of maturity, the result of understanding not just rules but also fundamentals that allow us to adapt and thrive beyond our comfort zone.   When we own the skills and not just the rules, we become truly powerful

I love rules, which often puts me at odds with others who are in the stage of claiming their independence from rules, demanding that the world play by their rules, which they haven’t really codified yet.

Even more, I love people who go beyond the rules, knowing the fundamentals and then adding the magic of their own heart and vision to create something new and amazing.  The human touch of handmade creation makes everything less canned and fresher, more delightful and more nourishing.

Know the rules so you have the basics down.

Then go beyond the rules to create the individual, powerful and astounding.

That seems to me to be how to find the mix of tame and wild, of social and personal that lets you show your heart and be all you can be, beyond the rules.