Abiding by the rules

by tamarjacobson

I am a rule follower. Yes indeed. I follow the rules. When I break them, as inevitably I do, once I think critically and independently, I feel anxious. For example, I remember when I decided that I preferred coffee over tea. I thought I was quite the rebel! For, in our family tea is the drink we drink to be social, to cure all ills, in crisis, or if there is the slightest hint of emotional discomfort. Growing up in Rhodesia, we were served daily with trays of steaming pots of strong, sweet, delicious tea. Coffee felt like a rule breaker for me – as if I had become unfaithful in toeing the party line! But, oh my – how I love it!

When I move into a different job, visit a family other than mine, or travel to a new country, and especially when I joined academia-land, I observe and learn carefully and quickly what the rules are within each and every type of culture. How to speak, what to say, when to say it, what to do, when to do it, and so on. When I first came to America, for example, I learned very quickly not to talk with my mouth full, and to suck on a breath mint immediately if there was the slightest hint that I had been eating garlic.

In my youth, when I belonged to an organization, I followed their rules! In fact, each time I became a staunch and loyal member, and expected everyone to abide by all the rules, I was as harsh on myself as I was judgmental of others. No double standards there! As I look back on my life and recall the organizations I have been a member of, I am appalled about how loyal I was – sometimes unquestioning in my obedience. It is no wonder that nowadays I am fiercely dedicated to helping students think critically for themselves, for I know intimately and personally how important it is to be able to think independently when making choices that will affect me or others close to me. I have to admit that because of my strict adherence to blind obedience that I learned as a young child at my mother's knee, I only allowed myself to entertain feminist ideology at the late age of 40. 

Now that I am older it seems that there are even more rules to follow: not to drink coffee, yes to drink coffee, not to eat bread, yes to eat the right kinds of grains, not to drink wine, yes to drink red wine, to walk every day for 30 minutes or more, not to sit for too long, to do cross word puzzles or play Scrabble or lose my mind, not to be involved with social media, yes to belong to a group on Facebook, not to eat before gong to bed, yes to eat the right kinds of food before going to sleep, to sleep in the dark, not to watch television before sleeping, to read but not on Kindle, to … the list is endless. Study after study comes out and tells me what I should or should not be doing to retain my health, grow old gracefully, or whatever it is the study shows. 

All those should's and should-not's – it's exhausting. 

So sometimes the best thing is to just sit quite still, breathe in and out, and toss all those rules aside. That way all those demanding, dominant voices in my brain are silenced, and I can consider what it is I want and need at that very moment.

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Leaving to be left