Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rules, Boundaries, Exits

My first memory of needing to find an exit comes from early childhood. I went to a birthday party. After I got there I discovered that the activity of choice for the party was something my family did not participate in. (It wasn’t a morally or ethically wrong activity just not one my family chose as an activity.)

Being only about six I hadn't yet picked up all those prickly feelings about being accepted by my peers. I was much more concerned with following my parents' guidelines for life. So I wasn't at the party long. I called my parents to come get me.

Those were the days when kids were safe almost anywhere and parents had far fewer worries. Those were the times when parents didn't have to be almost paranoid in order to protect their children.

Just a few weeks ago we were visiting our grandchildren. On October 31 we took the neighborhood walk with them to collect candy at various houses. We only went to the houses where people they knew lived. AND when we got home with the candy no one was allowed to eat anything until Dad checked through the pile. I was a child in far different times.

I remember other times in life when my parents would tell me "No" as a protection against going somewhere I didn't belong and would need an exit if I went. Sometimes they encouraged me to use their "No" as a reason to let me off the hook. That, too, was an exit of sorts.

I sometimes tried the old, "... but everyone else is ... " There was a very standard response to that particular protest. It was "… but you are not everyone else."

Fences (rules) are intended for protection. We don't need exits if we don't go places we don't belong.

When my oldest son was a toddler we lived on a very busy highway. Someone had to stay right at his heels the entire time he was outside for his protection as we had no fence.

One Sunday afternoon we were all taking a nap (supposedly). All of a sudden I was startled awake by honking horns. I bolted up, ran down the hall and saw that our front door was standing open. I looked further to the road and saw cars stopped. I hurried out into the yard and saw an elderly woman chasing my toddler down the center line of the highway.

There were cows in the pasture directly across the street. He was "going to see the moos." He had no clue of danger. He was focused on "the moos." He needed someone to dog his steps for his own protection.

Consequently we put safer locks on our doors and eventually a fence in the back yard. That fence was very freeing. He could go anywhere inside that fence without anyone needing to dog his heels. He could play happily and safely inside the fence. The fence marked the safe boundary.

Rules, boundaries, exits – all good and necessary for safety - too bad these words have all become negatives. It is a sign of a fundamental shift in our values as a culture and a symbol of how warped our thinking has become.

We all need rules. We need boundaries. We need exit strategies.

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