Unenforceable Rules

November 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Food for Thought, New Posts


To Create a Win/Win, Change the Rules of the Game.


In the original Star Trek, there is a test that all cadets at Star Fleet Academy must take before they can become a ship’s captain.  The test is based on a situation which is set up so that the cadet, acting as Captain, cannot win.  The test is designed to challenge the cadet so that s/he can be evaluated as to how they will handle a no-win situation.

James T. Kirk, of course, finds a way around the situation.  He changes the rules.  (I believe he alters the computer program against which he is “playing” the game/test.)  As a result, he beats the computer and saves the ship and the situation.  This is one of the reasons Capt. Kirk is so successful.  He doesn’t feel limited by the rules someone else has made.

Each of us in our lives are faced with numerous situations where we are expected to “play by the rules.”  In fact, most of us have a set of rules in our head about what life is “supposed” to be like.  When life doesn’t follow our rules, we become upset, resentful, angry, fearful, and/or full of animosity.  When our rules don’t make sense because they are unrealistic and unenforceable, we usually get stuck in these unpleasant feelings.  Then we construct a story about the situation and tell ourselves the story over and over again.

When I was a child, my mother had a rule.  The rule was only for her children, because she, herself, did not follow it.  The rule was, “Never tell a lie.”  She also said to me and both my sisters, “If you lie to me, I’ll never trust you again.” 

I was the eldest child, and when I was given this rule, I swallowed it whole.  Thus, I was terrified to ever lie to my Mother. 

My youngest sister (4 years younger) observed that, when she lied to my mother, my mother only figured out that she was lying 50% of the time.  From her perspective, this meant that 50% of the time she actually got away with it.  To her these were great odds and she often lied.  I remember my mother once saying she couldn’t understand why my sister lied so much.  (Of course, I didn’t learn about any of this until we were both adults.  What an eye-opener!!)

Of course, my mother lied all the time – to her family (mother, sisters and brothers), and probably to herself, as well.  I would observe her screaming at one of us, and then the phone would ring, she’d pick up the receiver, and her entire voice and demeanor would instantly change.  I couldn’t figure out how she did this.  My internal reaction was that she was an adept liar, changing her mood instantly because she didn’t want anyone to know how much she screamed at her children.  In addition, she would ask all of us to lie to our relatives about things we did that she knew they wouldn’t approve.  Still, I was unable to reconcile all these inconsistencies with my fear that she would stop trusting me (and loving me) if she caught me in a lie.

I never learned to lie very well.  To this day, I really don’t know how to lie effectively and it poses some problems for me in life.  You might say I have a few “rules” about lying in my head.

RULE #1:  I must always tell the truth and when I do, people will love me for it.

RULE #2:  Others must always tell me the truth or I can’t trust them.

These two rules are bound to get me into trouble because they are unenforceable.

Rule #1 is unenforceable because there are times when people are not prepared to hear “the truth” as I personally see it.  Therefore, when I tell them my “truth” about their situation, they become angry with me.  Then I have to decide how to respond to their anger.  Do I want to argue about the issue (whether I am correct or not)?  Do I want to take offense because they don’t see the “light” regarding my truth?  (Is it important for me to be RIGHT or is it more important for me to be POLITE?) 

Let’s face it, if someone isn’t ready to hear something, it’s a complete waste of time and energy to force it upon them, and the result is that you don’t achieve whatever goal you had in the first place (unless you were just looking for an argument).

Rule #2 is also unenforceable.  I certainly cannot make someone tell me the truth if the person doesn’t want to do so.  Because of this rule, when I find out that someone has lied to me, I stop trusting the person.  If they continue to lie, then I start labeling, “this person must be a compulsive liar.”

It occurred to me one day that there are different versions of truth depending on people’s points of view.  What a challenging thought!!  Perhaps there is no “truth” at all.  Perhaps there are just different perspectives.

Learning to understand that someone else’s perspective is as valid for them as my perspective is for me has been an important lesson.  If their perspective is equally valid, then perhaps they aren’t lying at all?  Or, perhaps it really is ok to lie?  What is a lie anyway if there are so many different perspectives (one per person, at the very least)?

Then, one day, I was told,

“It is more important to be KIND than to be RIGHT.”

This is a mind-stopper for me.  This was not what I had lived as a child.  As a child, being “right” was all important to my parents. 

Now, as an adult, I am taking a different view of this.  In fact, it’s a new rule:

NEW RULE #1:  I can choose when to tell the truth and when not to tell it, and it’s OK for me to do so when I come from a place of kindness and love.

NEW RULE #2:  Others are entitled to make their own rules about telling the truth and telling lies.

NEW RULE #3:  Since it is possible to make mistakes in deciding when to tell the truth and when to lie, I give myself and others permission to make mistakes and I give myself permission to forgive myself and others when we make them.

So I invite you all to start asking yourself a few questions.

  1. What unenforceable rules are you trying to live with in your life?
  2. How are these rules affecting you?  Are they bringing you joy or are they keeping you stuck in some other, unpleasant emotion?
  3. How would you begin to rewrite your rules so you can have more joy in your life?