I’m ten years old, and I’m staring at a plate of lukewarm boiled broccoli. I’ve been sitting in my seat since dinner began, about 5pm, and it’s now an hour later and that broccoli is still on my plate and I’m still at the table, all alone, faced with a horrible fate. It’s a rule that we have to clean our plate before we leave the table.
I’m going to have to eat that broccoli.
My new step-mother, who was a mediocre cook at best, worked hard to make that dinner, and, in order to both show respect, get enough calories, and to make sure we didn’t waste any food and money, you had to clean your plate before you could be excused.
Why? Because it was a rule.
Let us now fast forward about 40 years.
I’m sitting at the table with my fiancée and our two kids. Our son, who is a picky eater with a capital P, says “Thanks for dinner, Mom,” gathers his glass, silverware and plate and takes them to the kitchen sink.
His plate is never clean.
Why? Because it wasn’t a rule.
Rules govern our life.
Rules keep us safe.
Rules set limits.
Rules coordinate our life and keep us all moving in the same direction.
But rules also keep us down.
Rules can be inconvenient.
Rules can be created for all, but enforced unfairly.
Rules can be arbitrary, spur of the moment and created as a knee-jerk response to outside stimulus.
As men, looking to change our lives for the better, we must come to grips with the rules in our lives. Rules that govern our community, our state and our nation are changed at the ballot box. Rules that govern our lives, our every day actions and our future are changed by identifying them, exposing them to sunlight, thinking carefully about their origins and their affect on us, and then finally either keeping them or rejecting them and changing them to something else.
How many of these rules do you currently follow?
Men don’t cry.
Men must always be strong.
Men must never show their feelings.
Men must always pay for a date.
Men don’t do housework or dishes.
Men cut the grass and repair broken things.
The woman takes care of the kids.
The woman has to have sex whenever the man feels like it.
It’s okay for a man to cheat on his wife if she’s not giving him what we wants, when he wants it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, right?
There must be a million more rules out there that we unconsciously follow, day in and day out.
Have you ever thought about the rules that you follow?
Have you ever thought about where you learned those rules?
You probably learned them from your father, your grandfather, your uncles. Maybe you learned some from movies and television. From advertising. From your friends.
Let’s take a step back and go even deeper down the rabbit hole.
Have you ever thought about the rules that your father follows?
Have you ever thought about where he learned those rules?
He probably learned them from his father, his grandfather, and the many influences that surrounded him during his early years.
Finally, have you ever thought about the rules that you are teaching your son?
Have you ever sat down, consciously thought about the rules in your life and how you might be passing them on to your son or daughter?
We must be cognizant of the rules in our life. We must examine each in the sunlight of logic, reason and realism. We must then cast aside those rules and create new ones that will help us grow into the men we want to become and help our children grow into the amazing adults they were meant to be.
You can change the rules in your life.
Use this process below to become mindful of the rules, to trace the rules back to their origin, and then consciously choose to either keep the rule or cast it aside and replace it with something better.
- Think of a rule that you are currently following. Write it down.
- When was the first time you heard this rule? Think back and try to imagine the situation you were in, who was with you and where you were when you first heard of this rule.
- Whose voice was telling you this rule? Was it male? Was it female? Was their tone kind and gentle, or was it stern or even angry?
- Why did I need to learn this rule? Had you done something bad? Were you in danger? Were you being punished? Were you being taught?
- Does this rule still serve me? How does this rule affect my daily life? When was the last time I followed it? What happened?
- If the rule still serves you, and impacts you in a positive way, then honor it and keep it.
- If the rule impacts you, your family or your life negatively, then you must replace it with something new.
- If you are replacing it, what do you choose to replace it with? Write the new rule down. Keep working with the phrasing until it sounds just the way you like it. Keep this new rule on a slip or paper, on your phone or on a card. Review it daily.
- The next time the situation comes up, instead of unconsciously reacting and following the old rule, remember the new rule. Even if you have to delay action, take a deep breath and follow the new rule.
- After following the new rule, take note of how you feel. Look around and see the results of following this new rule. This will reinforce the new rule and break the connections that bind you to the old rule.
Too often in life, we are on auto-pilot. We’re unaware of the rules that we are following that were learned in our childhood or adolescence. We don’t know that these rules can be changed. But now you know that what is a rule for someone may not be a rule for another. This understanding brings home that we, as men, are mutable creatures, able to change our life in an instant and become better men. Better husbands, better boyfriends, better fathers and better friends.
Break a rule today.