Rules and Principles – Are they Similar?

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A Rule compels you through threat or punishment to do things others deem right or good.

Principles are guides to respectful living, freedom and being open.

Why do we need rules?

Rules are put out by a community to guide collective action. We do need rules to govern our lives: to play its game. Rules provide a reference point for how a game is to be played out. Imagine a game of soccer or cricket with no rules: it would be chaos. Even in contact sports like boxing you have the queens’ rule.  These rules in organisation include code of conduct, compliance guidelines or Company Policy. They are created for consistency, fairness and an opportunity for a level playing field.

Often the rules provide for a handicap, where the forces are unequal or dissimilar in terms of natural endowments. Like in the case of horse racing or golf. These are affirmative actions to create a balance. Same could be said for the reservation policy. We all like rules, it allows for a pattern of order (traffic rules), builds trust and respect around how each person can hoped to be treated. When we bend rules covertly, we signal, unfairness, arbitrary whims and fancies and we end up being distrusted. However, for some of the rich, the powerful, rules are disliked: they wish to find loopholes: through Jugaad. Imagine all of us succeeding through ‘Jugaad’: we never would.

Principles to live by

 At and individual level, rules turn to personal principles. Remember, there are no eternal rules: every rule lies in its context, and needs to change once context changes. ‘The old order, changeth yielding place to the new, and God fulfils himself in many ways, lest one custom should so corrupt the world”, write Lord Tennyson.

Our Indian tradition (Dharma) asks for us to be mindful of collective discharge of duties and obligations (rights are not stressed) but also to follow one’s own path (Sva-Dharma). It emphasises that we should be a part of community; but foremost to be individual. It offers the principle of Appadharma to guide through crisis and emergencies.

Rules and Principles

Conceptually, rules come from ‘location’ in context: they are prescriptive, often stale and anachronistic. Uncalibrated, and without reform they become draconian, living in staleness, living corpses of the past, of dead traditions and rituals whose original sense and meaning have been lost to obscurity.

Rules are to be followed as a general principle but abandoned if dysfunctional. Stake not your life, but your meanings about life, said Pulin Garg, my beloved teacher and Guru. Like goals, they provide direction but are meaningless by themselves. Many of the rules of war and tradition were abandoned in the Mahabharata for instance.

Our principles are with ourselves. Do we drive across a red signal light, because others do it, or if no one is around? Are our principles relative to others or absolute? In our professional career, having competencies are important, but it is our principles that act as a ‘booster rocket’ to take our career upwards. Many careers have been ruined because this has not been understood.

In the end, like a chessboard, the rules create the game! But when the game is over, all the board pieces go back into the same box – inert, equal, same. Rules are ephemeral, principles are eternal.

Where do you sit with this? Join me and comment on post. Please avoid ‘Like’ and moving on. I would love to have you engage.

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