Saturday, October 27, 2007

When should “the rules" be followed? When should they be broken?

The skeleton of complex organizations and societies comprises laws, rules and regulations. There are rules for the creation of rules - in political life we call them constitutions. American University’s new President, Neil Kerwin’s scholarly career has focused, in part, on the study of rule-making. Rules are human artifacts, but they often assume a life of their own, somehow independent of human creation.

In post World War II Japan, General Douglas MacArthur and his staff faced the daunting challenge of creating an entirely new system of rule making and rules to replace a discredited one. Political leaders in the nations of Post Cold-War Europe faced similar challenges. So did leaders of post colonial “new nations.”

University students, too, face the challenge of choosing when to follow rules and when to break them. Grappling with this challenge, they learn, is one of life’s dilemmas. The functioning of institutions, including universities themselves, requires that most human beings follow most of the rules, most of the time. But rule breakers are sources of energy, creativity and change. Founding fathers of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and their colleagues were rule breakers. The U.S. Declaration of Independence offers a compelling discussion of when it is appropriate to follow the rules and when to break them.

These reflections have been motivated by readings and reflection during my morning quiet time, over the last two or three days. My reading has been the middle chapters of the Book of Matthew in my Life Study Bible, a gift from my daughter in law. The chapters describe, in part, debates between Jesus and Jewish religious leaders about how religious laws should be applied to daily life.

The religious leaders seem to be giving priority to a literal interpretation of the laws. Jesus, too, views religious laws as important. But he seems to be saying that it is also important to keep in mind the purposes of those religious laws, manifesting God’s intentions in human’s lives, societies, institutions and nations. Thus Jesus, like America’s founding fathers, is saying that choosing when rules are to be followed and when they are to be broken is part of what it means to be human.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home