Brandishing the Rule Book

The dog has relinquished his hold on the day: and Phil is padding across to my office to consign the children to the land of Nod.

The light is still here, of course: these crazy midsummer nights wrongfoot us all, giving us teatime vibes right through ’till ten at night.

But rules is rules, and they’s there for a reason.

On a Saturday the children take over the big light office on the first floor. They feast on naughty bowls of crisps and the occasional contraband fizzy drink. They commandeer the iPad, and are permitted, with light supervision, to YouTube all manner of film excerpts and comedy extracts.

But even on a Saturday night, nine is their equivalent of the witching hour. For tomorrow is another golden childhood day.

If there were no rules, would they regulate themselves?

It is a taxing question.  Too many rules would be stifling. None at all, cruelty in itself.

So how many rules do we need? How much should we dare to control the lives of others?

Sometimes the rules one makes will stem from what one wants. Much after the manner of William the Conqueror and that Domesday Book of his.

William wanted money. He wanted to know what was out there, across this country of England, before he sent his cronies to demand a large slice of it.

The effect it had on the people was profound, and gave the book its name. They called it Domesday: because no-one could escape this great gathering of information. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles observe; …there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was there left out: and all these records were brought to him afterwards.

Scary stuff.

They were written down in Latin. And the records were organised , too, to be searchable; you could search by landholder, by manor, by county, and engagingly, by the smaller geographical areas once called wapentakes.

William set England in stone. He had shone light into the smallest English hamlet.

I was rummaging in my favourite dusty second-hand bookshop today when I came upon a startling find indeed.

It was a tiny red book, bound in cheap utilitarian plastic. It was printed in two languages: Chinese and English.

This was the Little Red Book written by Chairman Mao.

I know there must be millions of these floating around, but I have never before set eyes on one. An historic rule book in my fingers.

Mao. The man who controlled millions using the rules in his book: the intellectuals included.

“Intellectuals,” the book reads, “often tend to be subjective and individualistic, impractical in their thinking and irresolute in their action until…they have made up their minds to serve the interests of the masses. Intellectuals can overcome their shortcomings only in mass struggles over a long period.”

The 1966 Cultural Revolution branded some writers acceptable and some anti-socialist. The wrong kind would not work again. The old was seen as bourgeoise and priceless Chinese relics and writings were destroyed. The loss of life, under this merciless enforcer of rules, was on a terrifying scale.

And all in a bid to make a new socialist society.

Control: less an on-off switch, better as a dimmer system. Mao flicked the switch and his method has become infamous; William used information to turn up the light and enforce his will on a foreign land.

Maddie and Felix switch out the light while the light is dazzling outside, because we tell them they need their sleep. But we’ll be dimming the control as they grow.

Because every human needs to put the rule book down.


50 thoughts on “Brandishing the Rule Book

  1. I think we need our own books, what is totally taboo for oneself, what needs watching in case it becomes a problem, and then in the other half, what to do to make the heart, spirit and flesh happy

      1. So create it. One side bound in brown leather with black letters, and the other side bound in multicoloured leather with gold letters

    1. 😀 No, makes sense to me, Roger: only when we see how catastrophically wrong things can go without boundaries do we fully appreciate how important they are.
      Hope you got that coffee. Doctors advise you have at least one before reading any Shrewsday.

  2. We do need guide lines, which mostly come from the example we are set by those that bring us up.
    Rules, however, must not be set in stone.
    Many of the rules I grew up with no longer exist.

    1. Now there’s a thought, Rosemary…rules change with time. Maybe they evolve, along with us, a bespoke framework. Mao and his like show that just sometimes man sweeps all that painstaking evolution away with horrendous results…

    1. Wise words, Myfanwy. Let go and they will create their own guidelines; and because they’re generally thinking, sensible people they often do a very good job. I shall take your words away with me today…

  3. We must take great care, however, in whom we place our trust to administer those rules. There are many who would twist and bend them to suit their own purpose. ‘Nuf said.

  4. I have three children as you know, aged 15, 10, and 5. “The Rules,” including those regarding bedtimes are drastically different as you can imagine, and each child is so different. The teenager has a 10:00 guideline during the school year, but “by 11:00” is the summertime rule…one she loves to break. The other night I came downstairs at 11:40 to fetch something for the five year old who woke up crying, to find her cleaning my house. Yes, CLEANING. “I’m sorry Mom. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to clean.” How was I supposed to be stern and annoyed at her “rule breaking” in the face of that?! 🙂
    The 10 year old panics if she isn’t in bed by 9:00 as she knows she needs her sleep lest she become dysfunctional. That child does not need a rule book…she writes her own which Mommy needs to alter from time to time.
    The five year old? His rule book is the fattest by far and he needs every single page of it. 😉 As far as his bedtime goes, he needs to be asleep BY 8:00 or the rest of the family suffers for it. “I HATE bedtime and I DON’T like to SLEEP!” is his nightly mantra. He would become a societal vagrant if not for The Rules. 🙂
    Gotta love this parenting gig!

    1. Different rules for different people 🙂 What a wonderful reply: and a perfect illustration. Your five year old son sounds incredibly familiar…just like my nephew whom we call ‘Big Al.’ Larger than life, and with a need for a rule round every corner and more besides.

  5. Rules, Laws, Regulations, Societal Compacts….all necessary within a “Common Sense” approach to living with others. A watchful and aware public is necessary to keep the rules makers in check.

    1. You are so right, Lou. It’s why I worry about the demise of local journalists in Britain. They are trained and paid to take notice of what the local legislators are doing, and make it simple for everyone to understand. But the way things are going we won’t have them, for much longer!

  6. Brilliantly written. We of course need to loosen up and let go of some rules or at least modify them when they will grow up. I liked how you intertwined it with pieces of history…

  7. I have a slinky a smaller version made of brass. Often when am considering ‘the rules’, I’ll just sit for awhile an bounce it back and forth in my palms. It helps, strangely enough. A child’s toy, while ponder important decisions helps me spiral through it all to see what is the simple truth. Rules are important, but the right to choose is far greater. Rules exist for a greater good. However, if your the rule maker you have to be prepared to be challenged by those to which the rules were meant for. As they grow and mature they will doubt question your intent. As they should. Every rule and ruler needs ‘check and balance’. A good rule and a wiser ruler I suspect would want this. Back and fourth, like a slinky.

    1. p.s.
      I guess your ‘slinky’ is “Because every human needs to put the rule book down”. A wise ruler you are, indeed.

  8. Gotta be the prime example of one person imposing himself on a people and what compounds that is that the population was so vast. In essence Mao controlled 1/3 of the planet’s population.

  9. As social animals we automatically pick up on behavioural parameters and boundaries, many of them unwritten or even unspoken. It’s part of what we’re genetically programmed for, looking for patterns to make sense of the world. The difficulties of course come when the rules make no sense.

  10. Rules with a light hand, I think best. The concern I have with the way “rules” are currently being imposed in many sectors is that they are so often intrusive in ways that don’t leave any room for common sense. Kindergartners expelled from school for bringing a fork in their backpack (a weapon?) and rules about the size of soft drinks you can buy (New York–they’re not good for you), I’m just not sure that regulating our lives on the micro-level isn’t going too far, but power run crazy! My brother had a “little red book” in the sixties…scared my parents to death. They were convinced he was going to turn Communist! LOL! I hope he still has it–I must ask to see it. Debra

    1. An interesting artefact, to be sure, Debra. The Nanny state is a sinister old business. The end result, something akin to Orwell’s 1984. Rules can, as you say, be incredibly intrusive.

  11. Dear Kate, a lot of wisdom in this posting of yours. I so remember teaching in grade and high school. Another nun–older and wiser–told me that I needed to establish boundaries and rules in the classroom because that gave the students/children security. And so I did and truly that led to the classroom becoming a place of learning and comfort for the students. Peace.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Dee. Loving boundaries allow children to grow in love and respect for others and themselves. And they learn like sponges within such parameters.

  12. One of the churches we visited in England a couple of years ago had a pretty old copy of the Domesday Book. It was the first time I’d seen it live, and I shivered. While it was a control measure, it is cool to be able to go back and know so much about life during that time and afterward.

    1. It is quite amazing: the ultimate book to take with you on a tinkle, Andra. They should bring out Domesday wallpaper for toilets and bathroom everywhere so that we can spent hours gazing at the entries.

  13. I remember my Mom giving me advice about parenting: “Every once in a while, let them ‘get away’ with something.’ It’s a far better teacher than strictly following all the rules.” She was right. I know I’ve never forgotten the things I thought I “got away with.” The “guilt” has stayed with me for over 55 years. . . I did indeed learn something!

    1. I think allowing children to discover things – for example what happens when you dawdle and make yourself late for school – is immensely powerful, as it is with us adults, Paula! I have always held that my children are conscientious souls precisely because I am so disorganised. They know it is possible to lose track, so they take steps to stay in control. Really, sometimes they put me to shame.

      1. I have probably said “I’m sorry” to my children and my husband ALMOST as much as I’ve said “I love you!” The reason being for precisely the same as yours – disorganization! Unfortunately, our sons took after me more than their Dad, I’m afraid. . .but the good result is that they are very good apologizers – and sincere, too! Wish that kept us from repeating the same mistakes, over and over!

  14. Boundaries seem to be favoured a great deal by children and adults – especially when communicated well. Rules, to me, are less negotiable. I loved my parents giving me more and more opportunities to input into decisions as I grew older. Thus, I really appreciate your closing line.

    1. A wise perspective as usual, Amy, thank you 🙂 Letting go as they grow is handing the reins to them. If we don’t do that, but continue to use rules to control: well, that sounds more like needy domination to me.

  15. Oh the difficulty of observing bedtime when the sun itself is pushing its bedtime. Hopefully our guidelines are not so drastic and desperate as that little red book.

  16. Here is one more rule book for your records – the ‘Manusmriti’ or the laws of Manu, set out the norms of behaviour for domestic, social and religious life in India. Obviously written by a man and with a heavy bias towards his species. If these rules hadn’t been bent, I would be living in purdah 🙂

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