Following the rules is my thing. I am apparently custom built to be a rule follower. I cannot grasp the fullness of the saying, “rules are made to be broken.” I certainly understand what is being said, but I just cannot grasp why anyone would believe such a thing. Along with this comes the distaste for people who feel, or act, as if they are the exception to the rules. Few things bother me as much as when someone says something to the effect of, “Oh that’s just Don. He does it his own way.” No! There is a way to do things and not doing it is breaking the rules. It drives me crazy every time, except for when I want the exception to cover me.
In Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book The Coddling of the American Mind they argue that the increase in the sense of fragility among people, and particularly college students, is creating an environment that is preventing people from engaging the world fully. This in turn is preventing them from getting a full educational experience. They lean on what they call the 3 Great Untruths, which are:
- Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker
- Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings
- Us Vs. Them: Life is a battle between good and bad people 1
Each of these untruths prevents people from a full exploration of life.
Thankfully, Lukianoff and Haidt do not put the blame on the students themselves, but rather on their parents and teachers who have taught them the three great truths. And as such it is on the shoulders of the leaders of this generation to help them walk away from the untruths.
One of the means to overcoming the untruths is empathy2 which is a type of emotional hospitality. Making space for another’s thoughts and feelings allows us to come to understand them better. This greater understanding allows us to interact in honest ways with them. There is a certain amount of hostility in obeying the untruths. This hostility kills off any chance of growth or unity. It is also a type of aloofness that says the discomfort of an opposing view is below the claimant. In hospitality we take the lower place, which makes no discomfort below us.
On the other hand, hospitality also takes seriously someone when they say that something is triggering them and does not try to exacerbate the issue. For people who have undergone trauma, there are real concerns that need to be considered and hospitality welcomes and protects them. That is not to say that in the case of someone that is acting irrationally that they are not lovingly corrected once the moment is passed.
As leaders we need to be able to parse the moment and act in hospitality no matter what the result of the other person’s response. Whether we call it empathy or hospitality the end result is the same, allowing someone a chance to be honest about their feelings while still being able to speak honestly to them about the situation.
I think that ultimately my rule issue comes down to a lack of empathy for the person for whom the exception is being given. I am not looking at the situation in the best possible light. Maybe we – I – need to be more willing to look at situations more positively and perhaps that witness will help to change hearts and minds.
1. Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. New York City: Penguin Press, 2018. 4.
2. ibid 51.