I read something interesting today: someone was quoting a 15-year-old book on raising boys, and it said:
“Boys want to know three things:
1. What are the rules?
2. Who is in charge?
3. Will the rules be enforced by the person in charge?”
I think this is one of those brilliant statements that explains way more than the subject it intends; the same three rules could be adopted for pretty much any of us, boy/girl, child/adult, every time we walk out the door. Some are nakedly obvious – if you’re in a car, the rules are the law, the cops are in charge, and they will enforce them. But it’s the more nebulous situations that force us to contemplate each rule, one by one.
Say you’re in a college class, and the teacher is extremely late. I remember things working as follows:
1. Rule: If a professor is 15 minutes late, you can leave. If it’s a T.A., they only get ten.
2. The absent professor is nominally in charge, but “accepted tradition” is the trump card here.
3. Generally, the professor knows they have little recourse after those 15 minutes.
You’re in traffic, at an intersection where many of you are stopped at a red light. There is no traffic on the other road, so you’re waiting for nobody. The lights aren’t changing. For a long time.
1. Rule: if the lights haven’t changed in a bizarrely long time, you can surmise they’re broken.
2. Again, the cops are in charge. But they’re not around.
3. You can run the red light, and pretty much everyone will follow suit, using the mob mentality to justify it.
Now you’re in a men’s bathroom at an Applebee’s in suburban Virginia. You hear a kid being repeatedly spanked by his father in the next stall, using profanity and causing the child to scream.
1. Rule: if it sounds like child abuse, the newer rules may compel you to confront the father, if only to let the helpless child know that his father’s behavior is unacceptable.
2. Who is in charge? Right then, it’s either you or the father, and which one is bigger. If any other patrons come into the bathroom, the scales tip towards you. If management comes in, suddenly Applebee’s is in charge.
3. If you’re in charge, enforcing them is up to you. Once Applebee’s is in charge, it gets very corporate, and you can bet your ass the father will be escorted from the premises.
In a way, you can gauge your own personality by the way you respond to question 3. It can be defined as a “moral code”, but it’s more aptly described as “in the grand scheme of things, how fucking important is it to observe this arbitrary bullshit in the name of the greater good?” I have to say, I find myself coming down on the side of “this is stupid and I won’t do it” more times than I’d like to admit. I have a fundamental belief that:
1. The rules are moronic.
2. The person in charge only has the power I give them.
3. You can’t get in trouble if nobody sees you do it, and you can run fast enough.
Being married and having a li’l punkinpants has definitely altered all that. Yet I still find myself fighting it occasionally, which sucks, because it smacks of entitlement and exceptionalism, two traits I have no business handing down to Lucy. She’s a girl who wants to know the rules, figures there’s somebody in charge somewhere, and has zero interest in testing it out. She loves to be a part of the program, to do good things for the sake of doing good things, and I’m not ashamed to say I could learn a lot by following her example.