Rules And Children

First, let me say one thing about the last blog’s title: PSYCH! (I really did not mean it as such, but I got an amazing spike in hits with that last title, maybe I’ll try similar ploys more often)

Imagine with me for a moment, Mozart, that famous composer of a few centuries ago, using atonal and discordant stylings such as you’d find in what qualifies in modern music as “classical”. Would he be remembered with any of the universality that defines his memory and influence today?

What if the dynamic duo of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, those two who brought pride and joy to the hearts of rightfully arrogant 49er fans, and fear and dread to their opponents, what if they decided to toss the rule-book. What if Montana and Rice decided they thought the rules of football were arbitrary and pointless, and that they’d play any way they felt like playing. No rules, just right, eh? They might’ve ended up being a humorous sideshow in the history of football and little more.

Consider Michelangelo, the famous painter, architect, sculptor, inventor, engineer, and all around brilliant guy. What if he decided he would paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel using the forced perspective, illogical geometry, clashing colors, and other stylistic forms common to more recent painters such as Picasso and other more inscrutable modern artists? What if he’d invented and engineered and designed while trying to ignore what he would have considered the forced and false laws of nature, laws such as gravity? He’d have been fired and forgotten. Laughed at in his time, considered insane, or worse.

Consider the child. Maslow would say the child is a pure form of human, untouched by the tainting influences of corrupt culture and society. Maslow would say the child was the epitome of self-actualization, that pinacle we all started from and then spend our whole lives trying to reattain. Regardless of what Maslow said or what we believe, the child is kinetic energy personified, potential energy iconified. What if we tell the child that, as Maslow would state, there are no hard and fast rules. That the best thing that child can strive for and do is whatever they feel like doing. “Be yourself.” “Do whatever makes you feel good.” That the only way they can find fulfillment is to ignore any strictures of man or God and find, in whatever is left, that which satisfies them. A child who takes such lessons to heart will be a sad, unfulfilled, unsuccessful, even dangerous, person. True success is found when we do our best within a framework, abiding by rules set by ourself and others. The better we can restrain ourselves, the less we need to rely on external rules, the more effective we become.

John Amaechi, the NBA player from the UK who retired recently from the sport, in an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk in January, discussed details of his program for children in a depressed area of England, Manchester. His program uses sports to bring children together and teach them principles for success in life. His program makes use of rules and regulations, rewards and punishment. This would appear to be a modern child psychologists’ nightmare. Amaechi responded to a similar question this way: “I think people assume that children cannot express themselves freely within a framework.” He went on to describe how his program allows children to enjoy themselves while showing them how to be successful by using well-thought rules and an effective and just reward and punishment system.

The rules allow to play and compete on an understood, universal level. Each child can bring their skills and strengths and discover and mend their weaknesses. The punishments prevent bullies from abusing the rules and others around them. Just rules are the best levelers, arbitrary strictures which limit or promote based on any facet which cannot be changed, any intrinsic quality which is not controllable by the individual are unjust, unpractical, plain wrong. Rules control what can be changed by each individual, and as such, can allow people with varying abilities to compete and/or cooperate. Rules also define things. Consider the game of football. It can be said that it’s the rules that make the game. If I were to add bases and a diamond to the game of football, it could obviously not longer be called football, and it’s not baseball either (maybe Calvinball?).

The Amaechi program is apparently enjoying some success as well. In an area where buildings are routinely defaced with grafitti, his buildings aren’t. The children and the community see the honesty of his desires and experience the effectiveness of his plan and means, rules and all. What he has given them is a place where they don’t have to “be themselves” but instead they can experience their potential, they can be who they will be. They are safe from negative external influences, protected by the same rules that guide them. They can just hang with their mates for a casual afternoon or they can compete on their best with others, sharpening themselves, learning and honing skills not just in basketball, but in life.

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