Taking a little time to discuss the need for rules

Rules are the guidelines that create a civilized society.

American Indians say, “No, my friend, that is not the Hopi way.”  In Arabic, it’s said, “It don’t look good.” The Irish say, “There is no good luck where there is no discipline.” And the medics, guided by the Hippocratic oath, are saying, “It’s our duty to save lives during this pandemic.”

One of France’s most original filmmakers, Francois Truffaut, turned out what was to become a classic in human understanding: “L’Enfant Sauvage” (“The Wild Child”) is based on a true story about a professor who hears about a young boy found living among the animals in a forest. The professor takes the boy in, and with great patience does what no one before him could:  with one helping rule after another he helps teach this creature how to fit into human society.

It’s a remarkable film, reminding us of how we are born with a blank slate  and must be taught  the rules of life, beginning with the basics: how to eat and drink, how to crawl then walk safely — and later — how to tie one’s shoes, how to wash up, brush teeth and comb hair, how to answer questions about  right from wrong — then how to live in harmony with others, say “Please and thank you,” show respect, enjoy giving as much as taking — in general, how to grow up with a Golden Rule. None of that comes naturally; during that child’s most critical period, it must be trained — by someone at home if possible.

And so we advance through perilous childhood to impressionable teens and, finally, into adulthood with the guidance of civilized adults — at home and at large. 

It was Freud who believed that the first seven years of a child’s life determine its personality, and the next seven that firmly cement it.  Truffaut’s “sauvage” already revealed a resistance to speak, stand upright — would remain naked and unkempt, and selfishly disregard the needs of others — until taught differently, going from the “me” stage to the “we” stage and sometimes (as with saints and heroes) the “you” stage.

Nature is automatically controlled by rules, but humans have to be taught to  observantly formulate what a civilized society deems proper, whether it be from books, parents, the Koran, the Ten Commandments, etc.  Otherwise:

 – In a concert hall, parents entered late with babies in two carryalls, and while the audience is intent on the music , the babies’ grunts and cries disrupt; a teen couple in a movie theatre chatter, crunching popcorn, texting, ignoring the audience around them. 

 – During today’s need for mask-wearing and social distancing, many people from the President on down totally ignore it, adding threats to the general public. 

 – A truck or car driver texts at high speed and causes an accident; similarly, a woman in a rush home texts hubby and front ends the car in front of her.

 – A worker on a manufacturing assembly line carelessly performs without care, and countless unacceptable products are sold on the market.

 – Parents bring an undisciplined child to church, permits it to noisily run about, disturbing the sacredness of the moment.

Put two people together and you already have the making or breaking of rules – morally, and socially.  Add more people to the situation and you have a sloppy, careless society on the road to possible disaster.

Anyone over the age of 60 recalls the learning of proper decorum – at home or by observation from literature and movies (remember the Andy Hardy series?), all this instead of giving in to childish laissez faire, ignoring respect for others – even appropriate dress, personal care, language, manners as we do today.

In a British film, a grandmother in a locally influential home reads to her child, looks at the time, closes the book, saying, “I’m sorry, dear, but I must attend tonight’s program.” The child says, “But you don’t really want to go, do you?” “No, dear, I don’t.”  “Then why go?”  And the simple response is “Noblesse oblige, my dear.”  And that settles it; the grandmother tends to her obligation and the little girl learns a lesson.  

There was a time when there were unbending rules for everything: dressing for dinner, using appropriate language, being diplomatically gracious ; “obligation of the noble”  comes in many forms,  and unfortunately we have reduced it to the egocentric  demand, “I want to be me.” 

I’m told that orthodox Jews live by stringent rules for everything from table settings to prayers to what one wears. Why? A Jewish woman replies, “Because it makes life simpler. I always know what’s right.”

Today’s way is more casual, reduced “to be me.” 

In these dire times, when we are housebound, living more intimately as family once again; it might be a good idea to dig up Confucius or Emily Post or web pages on civil responsibility to remind us of how necessary are civilized rules of etiquette and respect. Please and thank you!


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