I hung out last week with a high school teacher of mine for the first time in about a year. I’d arranged to meet up with him for what I thought was just going to be us hanging out in his office chatting, but I ended up getting a much better deal. He picked me up at my car and we headed over to the gym and, accompanied by his daughter and her lunch, hopped in a golf cart.
He’s been working for the last 5 or so years on creating some trails behind my old high school and he decided to give me the tour. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have worn the only pair of khakis I own, but I certainly wasn’t turning down a rumble through the woods.
The school is located next to a preserved wetland. Every classroom that you look out of, all you can see is green: grass, trees, vines. The walk between the main building and the gym is a long, meandering board walk that almost makes you feel like you’re in a state park. I took it for granted when I was there, but it’s the most beautiful high school campus I’ve ever seen.
They’ve developed it more since I’ve been there, and the area is nothing short of fantastic now. There was a ropes course, miles of trail, a lake. It’s pristine. When we came up to the lake, we watched a blue heron take off and circle to gain altitude until it crested a row of trees. There were two families of ducks swimming around. Snapping turtles.
He said that it was barely used though. Students didn’t have time to come out there, too much curriculum to cover. I’d been thinking a lot about education lately and we got to talking. Though we only talked briefly, I thought about education and something that I’ve slowly come to realize something over the past year.
There are no rules.
I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to accept that. I think that’s true for most people. To a great extent, we want rules. Rules give us stability, something to fall back on. They help us to organize our lives and our world. As children we’re indoctrinated with rules. We have tests where answers are either right or wrong. As a society, we do a horrible job of fostering creativity and self-expression.
Every year at my elementary school, they had the high school seniors that had left six years prior come back to the day school and visit. I walked in and sat down in the big church. It was cold and a little quieter than normal as everyone fixated on the “big kids.” They were wearing suits and ties. They seemed huge and wore cocky, smirking grins as they looked around the church and joked with one another. The most vivide part of that memory is looking over at them and thinking “Yea, When I’m their age, I’ll have it all figured out. I’ll know all the rules and how everything works.”
I’m 23 now, well past their age. I don’t have it figured out. More importantly, I’m incredibly suspicious of anyone who does.
I think society as a way of stabilizing and dealing with chaos that is the modern world creates rules. Some people call them scripts, but I think rules is more apt. They might be major life rules like go to college, get a job, buy a house. They can just as easily be minor norms for social situations, like how people never talk in elevators. (That’s completely illogical by the way, if you’re in a small confined space with someone, you should say something.)
We, as people, have a fundamental need for order. The idea that there are no absolutes, no rules is terrifying. We accept society’s rules to fill the void. We don’t have to though. You can make your own rules. People have much more freedom than they believe, they just don’t exercise it.
Education and the whole school system, kindergarten through higher education, is designed to indoctrinate us with all these rules. We sit in rows, have line leaders, and can only eat, sleep, and play at certain approved times. That’s a travesty. People aren’t meant to live like that. We’re living in a society that creates mindless corporate drones instead of free thinkers.
The son of a friend of mine was diagnosed with ADHD recently. I don’t really know anything about ADHD, but I think a disease whose main symptom is not wanting to stand still in a straight line or only speak when spoken to is an awesome disease. He’s a really bright kid and I worry that he’s being stifled because he doesn’t naturally conform. If I ever have kids, I sure hope they aren’t “normal.” If people stand around at my funeral and say, “what a normal, well-adjusted person he was,” I’ll consider my life a failure.
I’ve always been a conformer, the kind of person that takes the path of least resistance. I did “good” in school. I got good grades and my teachers liked me. Looking at that now, it scares the shit out of me. I want to be a creative and interesting person, someone that lives in a self-prescribed way, not according to societal norms or rules. Historically, that’s not who I’ve been.
I’m trying to do a better job of training myself to be more creative and non-conformist. (I hate saying non-conformist because now I feel like a hipster. I hate hipsters, though I do like their music). I mean non-conformist in the sense that I try to live consciously and not just how everyone else around me thinks I should.
I don’t know how else to say it. There aren’t any fucking rules. Think of a rule, any rule. Whatever it is, it’s not true. Not for everyone, not in all cases. There are no rules, no absolutes, so you might as well make your own. There is no objective standard for success, only your own standard. Live the life you’ve always dreamed of. Make the rules yourself. It seems a hell of a lot better than letting someone else make them for you.