Every Rule is Contextual.

I got into an argument yesterday – someone made a generic rule and immediately the pendant in me reared it’s head to contest it.

However, on reflection, I think that my initial thinking “Christ, I need to stop being so pedantic” wasn’t right. The fact is No Rule set that can be expressed in a tweet is complete or generic enough to cover everything.

Now, before we go any further, it’s probably a good thing to understand the difference between an observation and a rule. An observation is when you look at something and describe it’s state. It can sound like a rule, but isn’t one.

For example, “I love you” isn’t a rule – it’s an observation. It’s describing how I am now, and not describing how I will be in the future. “I will always love you” is both a rule AND an observation. As an observation, it’s fine. As a rule, it’s not. There will be circumstances that except this rule – you die, you cheat on me, I cheat on you, I get tired of your shit, etc etc etc. The actual rule being expressed here is actually “I will always love you, assuming that everything stays the same as it is now.”

A pure rule is more like a statement of intent and result. “If you do this, that will result”. However, these kinds of statements are ALWAYS contextual.

Bruce Lee was fond of saying that if you face a man with a sword against a man without a sword, when both have the same ability, who will win? Well, obviously the man with the sword will. Bruce listens to you answer, then nods and says “What if I put that man in a phone box and gave him a gun?”.

The whole point is that the question is so contextual as to be absurd. And rules of the one line variety generally are too. There’s ALWAYS an edge case (and usually a fair number of them) that invalidates the rule or adds an extra dimension to it.

It even goes down to things like the 10 commandments, which are generally thought as basic as you can get  – “Thou shalt not kill” – doesn’t get any more basic than that. But if you had the chance to take out Timothy McVeigh before he dropped off the truck off in Oklahoma, and the only way to stop him was to kill him, hell yes you’d be justified in taking that life. The same with Osama Bin Laden, before he approved the 9/11 hijackings. Those would be completely justifiable homicides (well, they would and they wouldn’t. They would knowing what we know now, but if you just upped and killed these people, even if you knew what the results were, no one else would, and you’d be viewed as a murderer in their eyes).

So ok, now we have an exception that that hard and fast rule. So it’s not all encompassing, after all. You get where I am going here.

People who talk in absolutes when it comes to rules scare me – they’ve convinced themselves that they satisfy the root tenets of the rule, ergo it _should_ apply to everyone in the same application regardless.

Every rule is contextual – remember that the next time you blanket apply one to someone elses situation.

NOTE – that doesn’t mean that lots of rules don’t cover most of the situations they are meant to though. Just because a rule usually requires context doesn’t mean it isn’t right. Worth bearing that mind too.

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One Response to Every Rule is Contextual.

  1. B.J. West says:

    “No Rule set that can be expressed in a tweet is complete or generic enough to cover everything.”
    Except that one!

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