Our personal rules range from the silly and inconsequential to the very serious.
I don’t personally like the look of square-cut fingernails. I don’t argue with anyone’s preference to have that type of manicure; I just find them unattractive, as I do the very long, claw-like nails. I feel the same way about pearl-color nail polish, which is really surprising, seeing that I wore it constantly as a teenager. But now I think it looks like an advertisement for anemia, or perhaps zombieism. I simply don’t like it.
But pondering over my personal idiosyncrasies concerning manicures made me realize that each of us operates under these little individual rules: things we do or don’t practice ourselves; things we will or will not say; can or cannot accept; like or dislike. Our rules range from the silly and inconsequential, such as my obsession with acceptable manicure management, to the very serious, such as one’s personal spirituality.
This really came home to me recently when, while browsing an antique market, I overheard two customers and the owners, all of whom obviously attended the same church, critiquing their pastor’s latest sermon. All were incensed that, rather than use a scriptural passage as the basis for his lesson, he had chosen a poem on a spiritual theme. Listening to one of the women quote the line from the poem (several times, increasingly wrathful with each repetition), I thought to myself how eloquent and meaningful the words were. But it was obvious that their pastor had, unwittingly, broken the rules under which this small group of people operated. No matter how profound the source, they felt that a sermon in their church was to be based only on words from the Bible. Anything else was, in their view, quite unacceptable.
Eavesdropping quite unashamedly at this point, I listened in as they planned to confront their pastor on the necessity of following this rule.
I left the store feeling sorry for the benighted pastor, and wondering why they so were determined to impose their personal preferences on the entire congregation; why they could not be open to any deviation from their partialities, or to the magnificence of devotional material from another source. I also wondered what the consequences of their action would be, both immediate and long-term, and whether the rest of the congregation shared their dismay, or whether others, as I had done, considered the quote that founded the sermon to be exceptional. I imagined that quite a fracas was about to ensue from the pastor’s innocent desire to share with his parishioners words that he found evocative and eloquent.
That is the real danger of our personal rules: when we attempt to impose them upon others. Enforcing our rules doesn’t allow for individuality, or free speech, or even others’ personal preferences. For instance, that my rule is that beds must be made neatly every morning is not something I can reasonably expect others to follow; and while it might seem a minor penchant, if I were living with another person, it could cause a lot of friction.
I suppose the ultimate example of this quirk of imposing our personal rules on others is the operation of local Homeowner’s Associations. Originally begun with the noble intention of keeping areas free of, say, neighbors who reduce property values by parking four junker cars on blocks in their front yard, these groups have mutated into Neighborhood Nazis, sparking news stories concerning the persecution of harmless veterans who plunk a miniature American flag into a flowerpot, or couples who innocently feed the ducks.
Compromise is an essential function of interacting with other human beings. Sadly, we each seem to forget this on an individual basis. Is it any wonder, then, that nations find it impossible to manage this on a worldwide scale?
I’m always going to wonder how the “improper basis for a sermon” discussion fell out. Did the pastor accept the argument of his small group of parishioners, or was he dismayed, or even incensed, at their position? Was he able to convert them to compromising, however unwillingly, with his viewpoint? Did he listen carefully to their concerns, but in the end maintain his own position? Did the debate result in a fracturing of the congregation, or even the pastor’s departure?
I’ll never know. But for my own part, although, I will always maintain my preferences, I will never require that others adhere to my penchant for fingernails that are no longer than a quarter-inch long in gently rounded ovals; nails that, if polished, are painted only in shades ranging from pale to deep pinks and rich reds, while the wearer’s corresponding toenails are brightly painted in rosy tones or even sparkling shades.
Those are, though, just my personal preferences. In the end, just as with my choices regarding spirituality, I recognize that I must never unnecessarily impose my will and my decisions on another entity.
If you found something to like in this essay, you might also enjoy, “Roses of the Soul”. You can locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below; it was published December 16, 2017.