Rule #21: Question All Rules

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When I asked our daughter Melyssa if she remembers Rule 21, she usually smiles and says: "Sure, I remember Rule 21. Isn't that 'Break all rules?' " She was 19 at the time, so you understand.

Though Melyssa was being playful, akin to the rule itself, she and her sisters rarely miss an opportunity to dust off Rule 21 and take it out for a spin. Naturally we, the parents, are the spin-ees.

Rules are a natural battleground between parent and child because they pit the parent's basic instinct to protect ("In bed by 9") against the child's natural desire to rebel ("Just one more show?"). But Rule 21 applies to far more than parenting and teenage rebellion; it touches every corner of our lives.

We have rules for romance and rules of the sea, we have house rules and zoning rules, rules of etiquette and rules of the road -- not to mention game rules (plenty of those!) and golden rules. Rules follow us to the kitchen ("no snacks before dinner time"), not to mention the classroom (raise your hand before speaking).

This chapter examines rules beyond reason, and my good friend Vicki Sullivan shares the perfect story to illustrate:

"My favorite sermon was delivered by one of the priests at St. John Neumann on this very subject: rules of religion that are blindly obeyed, die hard but, once they do, you question why they were ever important.

"He cited several examples, but my favorite, by far, was the rule that a woman's head must be covered before entering the church. This was abolished (or whatever they do to cancel religious rules) many years ago, but he remembers women going to great lengths to cover their heads with any available tissue, scarf, handkerchief, etc. if they had forgotten their little lace pocket mantilla (or doily, as we fondly called it).

"He said he had seen it all, but the woman that won the award for ingenuity in a desperate moment was the woman who dashed into mass at the last moment wearing an empty pack of Marlboro's bobby-pinned to the top of her head."

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