Rules for living

“Maybe I bend to the right
‘Cause I don’t wanna be wrong.”

Thunder Jackson

Having boundaries, or rules for myself—rules for living—is helpful. Clear lines. A path to follow. Fewer decisions to make. Less ambiguity.

Can also be a problem.

There are potential pitfalls:

  • becoming legalistic and inflexible
  • judging myself harshly for breaking my own rules
  • judging others harshly for breaking my rules or not having their own rules or having stupid rules that I don’t like
  • then feeling guilty for judging myself and others
  • having stupid rules
  • limiting myself unnecessarily
  • chasing rule-based achievement
  • justifying poor choices
  • etc.

But on the other side—having no personal rules at all—there’s another set of potential pitfalls. One of those is a life filled up with doing things I don’t really want to do.

That seems sucky.

“Rules and responsibilities: these are the ties that bind us. We do what we do, because of who we are. If we did otherwise, we would not be ourselves. I will do what I have to do. And I will do what I must.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Book of Dreams

A strong personal philosophy is helpful, but if it’s vague, I don’t know what it means in terms of my actual mundane daily life.

It’s one thing to say, “I believe in free will and respecting others enough to let them solve their own problems.” Sounds nice. What does it look like in action?

Same problem with core values: “I value love, respect, and creativity.”

Okay, great. What does that mean for my daily choices? What do those values look like in action, for me? What do they not look like?

If the rules we claim to live by don’t translate into clear directives for everyday choices, what are they really worth?