Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Rules of the Game

As a parent, I get challenged about rules all the time. Bedtimes, dinner menus, crossing the street, riding in the front seat of the car, eating candy, chewing gum, wearing shorts in winter -- it doesn't matter -- if there is a rule, there will be an attempt to change it, break it, or go around it. But that's OK, it comes with the territory. I'm more than happy to sit down and explain in mom-logic the reason behind each and every perceived infringement upon the inalienable rights of TinyTuna.

The problem with rules is the instant they are established, they are examined for flaws and loopholes. So, when I say "Bedtime is 9pm" and I find TinyTuna reading in her room at 10pm, has she broken the rule? She was in her bed, but not asleep -- which was the intention of the rule to begin with.

Maybe rules would be easier to follow if the logic preceded the law. In other words, instead of the rule "Bedtime is 9pm" which is immediately followed by rapid-fire negotiation (Please, 9:30? No. 9:15? No. Can I just stay up until the first commercial? No. Pleeeeeze? NO), the rule should be "Bedtime is determined by how many hours of sleep you need to be healthy, and have a rested body and brain. This means you need to be in bed with your light out (aha!) at 9pm."

We are a society of rule makers and rule breakers. Now that the bulk of Reality TV (excuse me, unscripted television) is over, fans and foes alike are banging the drums loudly as they compare and complain about how the participants chose to participate. Was Ian (Survivor Pulau) overflowing with stupidity or integrity as he traded a million-dollar chance for the respect and friendship of his competitors? Did Team Romber (Amazing Race 7) have an unfair advantage as people around the world recognized them and assisted them in the race? And when it comes to choosing a winner, do you go with the person who performed consistently well from week to week (Tana - The Apprentice and Kahlen - America's Next to Model), or do you go with the person who blew away the competition during the "final exam" (Kendra and Naima)?

Everybody has an opinion. Oh boy, does everybody have an opinion.

Of course, there is no one right answer. As long as rules are not broken, how these rules are interpreted is a matter of personal choice and gameplay. Instead of complaining about how somebody "played the game" (or worse, "didn't play the game") I find it to be infinitely more interesting to observe how different people interpret rules in different ways, and watch how it plays out in the end. Are they perceived as a good or bad person? Did it help or hurt their position? What is the shakeout when all is said and done?

Last night as I was saying goodnight to TinyTuna, I mentioned to Gram that I had just read that the Senate had taken the so-called "nuclear option" off the table. TinyTuna wanted to know what I was talking about. I sat for a minute, trying to distill months and months of political wrangling and interpretation of the rules into a piece of information that would make sense. Finally I said, "You know what the word compromise means, right?" She nodded and said, "when people who don't agree each give up something so they can agree." "Well, that's what they decided to do tonight. They decided to compromise. They decided it was more important to agree than to fight." TinyTuna rolled over to go to sleep and said, "That's a good thing." "It sure is," I said.

Whether it's TV, Politics or Bedtime, everybody plays the game. But the rules are so narrow, and the exceptions, so wide. If we took the time to stop banging the drums of discontent and examine the logic behind the law, maybe we'd have a clearer vision of what's really important. And then maybe -- hopefully -- understanding and compromise wouldn't be so difficult afterall.

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