A Man Named Bob
Bob had a boy named Bill. He loved him dearly. Bill was a good kid, but would sometimes get in trouble. He would sometimes break the rules. It was something that Bob knew he could not allow. He knew he needed to show Bill that disobeying the rules was not acceptable. So he would consistently give Bill an appropriate punishment whenever he did something wrong.
A Man Named Joe
Joe had a boy named John. He loved him dearly. Just like Bill, Joe was a good kid, but would sometimes get in trouble. Joe knew this was not good. He knew that if John continued to do these things they would teach him bad habits and would keep him from a full and happy life. So he would consistently give John an appropriate punishment whenever he did something wrong.
A Couple of Teenagers
As the boys grew, their actions changed. They tested their boundaries more and started to question the values of their parents. They became more skeptical and less willing to accept things at face value. They often tested their parents.
As John tested Joe, Joe struggled. He wasn’t sure how to best prepare his son to be an adult. He didn’t always have all the right answers. He continued to focus on what was the best way to move his son forward. He often failed miserably.
Bob also struggled. Bill became defiant and mocked the rules. He would break the rules just to egg Bob on. He would do things purposefully to show Bob he wasn’t going to obey by his rules. And Bob worked even harder to make sure the rules were obeyed. The disobedience angered Bob and he became more and more strict with punishments, knowing that if he just could show he was in charge, Bill would eventually give up and fall in line.
A Different Approach
Where Bob was focused on making sure the rules were adhered to, Joe was lost. He would continue to enforce the rules, but he would look to others for advice and try different things. He knew the rules were important, because they would help his son become a better person. He still enforced the rules, just often in different ways.
Bob’s consistency bred results. Bill learned what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, he learned other things. He learned that the rules were more important to his dad than he was. He learned how to hide things from his dad. Most of all, he learned the goal was to play by the rules, not necessarily to do what was right.
John learned a different lesson. He learned his dad was imperfect. He learned he made mistakes. He also learned that his dad really wanted him to succeed in life. He learned that if he had a problem, he could talk to his dad. He learned that it was more important to know why he should obey the rules instead of what rules he should obey. This led him to make better choices in the muddled areas when the rules didn’t clearly apply.
We often think that if we just make people live by the rules consistently and enforce them well, that people will fall in line. Unfortunately what we get at best is a bunch of people who obey the rules, but struggle to understand their true value.
The rules are important. They help lead us toward a happy and fulfilling life. But they serve us; we don’t serve them. The rules don’t exist for us to obey; the rules exist for us to know how to coexist and be happy. If our goal is to obey them for the sake of obeying them, we lose the critical thinking skills to know what to do when the rules aren’t as clear.
More importantly, we can lack the compassion to understand that the rules are there to help people. We can end up enforcing the rules for the sake of the rules and harming the people they were meant to serve. If the rules don’t have a long-term positive effect on the world as we know it, then we are doing it wrong.
We can be like Bob and try to make everyone follow the rules. Or we can be like Joe and find out how we can use the rules to make people happy, healthy, and more fulfilled. If our rules don’t do that, we’re using the wrong ones.