by Melodie Davis
for release February 25, 2000
The Wisdom of House Rules
A young man finished his freshman year of college. Home for the summer, he let his mother know that since he was 19 and that he had gotten used to coming and going as he pleased, he didn't want to have to tell her where he was going or what time he was coming back.
"Oh," she responded. "I guess you won't be eating any meals here then, either."
He said, "What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm forty-five but I still tell other members of the household where I am going and when they can expect me back. If you don't want to live by that rule, I guess you want to live in an apartment."
This mother said that a friend reminded her that since her son had ended his freshman year, that meant he was a sophomore, and didn't she remember that "sophomore" comes from two Greek words: sophos meaning wise and moros meaning fool.
Wise fool. Most of us somewhere along the line got just smart enough that we thought we knew everything for a period of time. Later we learned how much there was to know. This mother had a lot of wisdom, calmly pointing out her rules of common courtesy in running a household.
What are your house rules? They may differ from house to house-and I think that always makes for a few sparks when couples get married or roommates move in together.
Does everyone carry his or her dishes to the counter? Do you fill the ice trays if you empty them? Are men expected to pull down the toilet seat? Is everyone expected to get out a new roll of toilet paper when they use up the old?
Do you tolerate feet on furniture? Last fall I learned that in some parts of Canada, taking your shoes off as soon as you enter a home is the expected rule. I kind of like that one. Is shouting okay? Is eating with the TV on okay?
More importantly, what are the house rules in regard to values? Is it understood that lying, cheating, and stealing are always wrong? Or are these okay if you get by with them? Do you report errors in pricing to clerks? Do you give back too much change?
Are the people in your household expected to do what they say they will do? Do persons arrive places on time, or habitually late? Do they call in sick when they are not? Do people forgive each other, or harbor resentment and plot revenge?
A woman who used to work in our office now teaches English in another country. She said that a friend there observed that there isn't an institution like the church in that country to teach basic values like trust. My former co-worker observed that in the U.S, "basically we learn to trust our family, friends and people we do business with until we have good reasons not to." But in the country where she is teaching, "I am learning that trust is not something to take for granted; many people here do not trust even their closest friends."
I was talking with a friend who was struggling with forgiveness. She said, "How do you tell someone who doesn't have Christian values that they need to forgive someone? Why forgive if you haven't been taught that value?"
Happily, the research is beginning to point to the benefits for anyone in forgiving. A recent major article in Christianity Today (January 10, 2000) says that social scientists are discovering the power of forgiveness. They are learning that forgiveness can help lead to victims' emotional and even physical healing and wholeness. The John Templeton Foundation has awarded research grants for the study of forgiveness. Another effort is called the Campaign for Forgiveness Research (www.forgiving.org) While other major religions such as Islam praise the virtue of forgiveness, it is something new for secular, non-religious scholars to be studying the healing effects of forgiveness.
So maybe the old house rule of "Kiss and make up" had a lot of wisdom behind it as it smoothed many a sibling argument. One of my favorite Proverbs says, "Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting with strife" (Prov. 17: 1)
Dry bread, anyone?
For a free booklet, "Talking with Your Kids About Right and Wrong," send to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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