A Brief History of Rules
This week I had the occasion to pick up “Robert’s Rules of Order”.
I quickly had occasion to put it down.
My ADHD meds are neither magic nor miraculous. It is by far the most mind numbing assemblage of verbiage ever published.
Detailed beyond comprehension, methodical and methodically void of anything to pique the imagination or stir the emotion, it is the manual of manuals.
I would have to be isolated on an island for twenty years to read to completion and another twenty for comprehension.
It is that way intentionally. It is precisely because it must be.
It is a very necessary tool for functions of representative government, organizations consisting of more than one and a half people and a plethora of assemblies involving creatures with opposable thumbs.
Human Beings are not prone to order. Chaos theory was a “light bulb” moment for a mathematician watching a throng of Christmas shoppers at 5 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving.
I posited the theory of rules being necessary to three or four of my brain cells as I needed the other half for daily functions.
I started at the beginning.
The first official rule book was given to Moses at a clandestine meeting with God on a mountain top. Moses was at his limit with the behavior of his rather numerous and rag tag bunch of runaway slaves.
This book, the first rule book in writing, predating Robert’s Rules by a gob, was presented by Moses to the malcontents in a hand written note in granite from God. He wrote it with his finger.
I don’t know which font. I bet it wasn’t “Curls”. Probably Times New Roman italicized.
Ten rules, no more, no less.
The Almighty said if the escapees would obey these ten, then ten are sufficient. I’m guessing the Almighty was right.
But obey, they did not.
God said, “Okee Doke! Here comes Leviticus and Deuteronomy.”
“Whoa!” The people said.
Leap frog in time. Big frog.
People kept breaking the rules and more rules had to be written because rule breakers can be clever and hire lawyers.
Man got in the rule making game because sometimes he thinks he’s God and he started spitting out rules for fun and profit.
Of course, the term Law was preferred with those that had broke enough rules to be in position to make rules and call them law.
That started a mess where the new rules were in direct conflict with the old rules: The first ten.
Now, the most well-intentioned desire to obey the rules became impossible.
Some laws or rules were wise because they were and are an elaboration based solidly on one the first ten. Some people couldn’t make the connection between their bad behavior and the first ten so they had to spell it out.
Some rules were and are an honest attempt at a wise law but had no foundation because they didn’t consider if they fit the first ten and so it was an illegitimate law and didn’t work worth a flip.
Some were and are an elaborate ruse for personal profit or power. Lot’s and lots of rules and laws are that way.
And then rules were made so that all the people could talk about rules without having a shouting match or unfairly using the power of personality or position to dominate the discussion.
Now this was a good idea. When a representative government gets together to think about laws or spending everybody’s money and that kind of stuff, it’s good to have rules to keep it fair.
So, one day, in 1867, this guy named Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert was asked to lead a meeting.
So Henry, embarrassed and not feeling very Brigadier General-ish, decided he would learn all he could about parliamentary propriety, and he learned so much he had to write a book.
Hence, we have Robert’s Rules of Order. A volume so thorough, so complete and handles every conceivable, possible situation that were a person to read through in its entirety, I’d bet a dollar to a doornail it covers flatulence.
I think ol’ Henry was what you’d call anal.
But remember the whole deal about man not paying attention to the first ten, and writing bad laws and such?
You guessed it. Robert’s Rules of Order, although considered foundational to public meetings, can be broken, bent, twisted, manipulated, ignored and misrepresented.
It happens all the time.
It could even happen in, say, a City Council meeting in your hometown.
But we have to pull all of this back on ourselves, because I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking about a lot of people and positions but not about yourself.
You and I are the reason we need rules. We just refuse to pay attention to the first ten.