I was thinking about rules the other day, for some reason, and I was minded of a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great jurist, who declared, “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”
At an early age, we learn rules and consequences when we follow them and when we break them. I asked my daughter Amy, who is an ace fourth grade teacher if her students were big on following rules. Here is what she wrote:
Yes, unfortunately I am quite familiar with children who are big on following rules.
Mostly the kids get very upset if they think others aren’t following the rules. One example is the “calculator police” in my room. The kids haven’t really used calculators before this year, and get all upset if they think someone is using a calculator and they’re not supposed to be. We had to have a chat about how some people need the calculator and I’ve given them permission to use it. I said that fairness isn’t giving everyone the same thing: it’s giving everyone what they need to be successful!
They aren’t as bad about tattling as the younger grades are, but if they’re a little less mature, they do get upset when others don’t follow the rules!
Of course, rules and laws apply to us as we grow older and woe unto us if we disobey the rules and get caught. Traffic laws provide a nearly universal and daily example. Most drivers tend to driver a little faster than the speed limit, and most police tend to tolerate that as long as it’s not dangerous or what is called “too fast for road conditions.” There is an element of judgment in applying the law. When I got a speeding ticket a few years ago for going 40 in a 25-mph school zone (the lights weren’t flashing, honest), the judge dismissed the charge because of my good driving record. I had a social studies teacher back in the day who told us, “There is a reason for the law and reason within the law.” My experience in traffic court was a perfect example of this principle.
Baseball rules (of which there are many) are famously open to interpretation and can differ from day to day in their application. A young player who “shows up” an umpire by protesting strikes is likely to find himself not getting the close calls. There are consequences. Some people have asked why the game doesn’t use a Pitch-Trak to call balls and strikes. There are entirely too many variables, especially in close plays on the bases. There is a reason for the rule, and reason within the rules indeed.
Human relationships are perhaps the most important arena where grace and judgment must be used. We hurt each other, mess up, and generally make a hash of things. All this is going to happen and when it does, it can destroy a relationship–or we can offer each other grace, understanding, compassion and empathy and go on together. Holding grudges, as someone wisely said, hurts us more than it hurt the person we hold a grudge against.
I pray for each of us that we are familiar with the rules, and, more importantly, how to use them to build others and ourselves up and not to tear down and destroy.