Everyone needs rules

No matter what you might think everyone needs rules. Or, shall we say, guidance. Because without some boundaries, without some kind of notion of what’s right and wrong things will unravel.

Anyone watching teams play football, rugby, cricket or hockey (choose the sport you like best) will know the that a team without shape, structure and leadership will not function as a cohesive unit. Individuals will not form together into the team dynamic. There is no rhythm and no performance.

Society is the same. Workplace is the same.

The rules need not be strict, but we have to have some sense of what works and what doesn’t. As Neil Usher said the other day, almost all of this is rooted in common sense. But even that needs a starting point.

Neil made a great reference to Erich Fromm, the philosopher and political thinker. I’m only going to steal an idea from Fromm – if you want to go deeper read the book – but in his work Escape from Freedom (or Fear of Freedom depending on where it was published) he argues that whilst people (humans, i.e. us) like the idea of freedom from authority (i.e. rules) we don’t really know what to do with it. We can sometimes feel rather useless, depressed and dislike the lack of direction the rules provide.

Fromm suggests that many people, rather than using it successfully, attempt to minimise the negative effects of freedom by developing thoughts and behaviours that provide some form of security – i.e. we seek out rules. Fromm argues this could range from authoritarianism and a desire to gain control over other people in a bid to impose some kind of order on the world. These people might also wish to submit to the control of some superior force which may come in the guise of a person or an abstract idea.

Destructiveness: Although this bears a similarity to sadism, Fromm argues that the sadist wishes to gain control over something. A destructive personality wishes to destroy something it cannot bring under its control. A third area is Conformity. This process is seen when people unconsciously incorporate the normative beliefs and thought processes of their society and experience them as their own. This allows them to avoid genuine free thinking, which is likely to provoke anxiety.

I am simplifying things – but common sense indicates there is a balance to had here. Call it strategy, tactics, guidance, a plan or rules – we need something that gives us boundaries to operate within. Without these boundaries things fall apart – perhaps in the manner that Fromm supposes.

My daughter is reading Lord of the Flies – she is doing it for GCSE English. She had to answer a question about the character Jack’s role. I suggested he is used by William Golding to illustrate what happens without rules. The boys suddenly have to cope with life on a hostile island without the usual society that shapes them. Order breaks down. Jack seeks a new order much like Erich Fromm argues. Things go badly.

What do you think? Do you need rules?

I like these rules: The Rules – bit tongue in cheek but they work. I also wrote up some rules for how I work, but my wife won’t let me tell you about them.

Let’s face it – it is all about common sense in the end.