New year, new rules. I always was skeptical of rules. Always did have issues adhering to authority. The first line in my law school application went: "In high school you would never have expected me to go to law school." Yet, I did go, and I also learned how to conform.
North America's history is one of rebellion. Though some hailing from the old worlds certainly look at it with contempt, I've always appreciated the latitude given in this country to screw up, fall on your face, and come back. "Marching to the beat of your own drum" is almost a North American mantra. I was often reminded of this in the summertime when Japanese tourists would fill the otherwise empty sidewalks of the island I grew up in, searching for the ever elusive spirit of Anne of Green Gables. No doubt drawn to the rebel spirit in her that refused to abide by tradition. Despite being a girl, she could not conform to the places she was supposed to fit into. She was smart, wrote poetry, drank alcohol, thought about death, and if you called her names best believe you would get socked. What teenage girl could not relate?
When I attended university for my undergraduate degree, I met somebody who had not even graduated from high school. But the university believed in her potential regardless of whether she'd memorized her high school lessons, and they were right to. Not only did her intelligence easily match anyone else's, she had a plethora of life experience I can tell you most did not. Imagine my horror when I found out that in France one's professional potential is assessed and streamlined as early as high school, thereby determining one's career possibilities before the eligible voting age. If I'd lived under such a regime I would probably be working in a fish factory now.
Maybe it's a symptom of being raised by hippies, but I have always felt that I would rather die than live somewhere where tradition and culture required me to repress who I am and who I wanted to be, much less to wear what I wanted to wear. In other words, an offspring of the Peace and Love generation grew up fully immersed in the individualistic, consumeristic ideology of generations past.
I guess it's a sign of maturity when you realize that no matter how hard you wish to shake off the constraints of old to be all that you can be, most of the things that make you you are a combination of society and nature moulding you into what you need to be. I guess it's also a sign of maturity when you start to understand that without rules, all you are left with is chaos. What is the point of playing a game without rules? How could you know consistently what to move next, how to move even, and whether a move is fair? Strangely, maybe counterintuitively for some of us, without rules meaning is lost.
Maybe it's this basic tension that makes the Christmas holidays such a difficult time for some, and so merry for others. Regardless of how you feel about rules, most of us cling to our traditions like a koala hanging on a tree. I've always found 'Christmas time' jarring. There are just so many rules to it. You must buy presents (even if it's junk). You must have a tree (even if it's fake). You must eat certain food: turkey, potatoes and stuffing, to name a few. You must spend time with family. You must drink, eat, and be merry. Well, that's not so bad is it?
No, it is not. I have tried to shake these rules and seldom is it satisfying either. A Christmas holiday with no tree, feast or family is indeed devoid of meaning. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Perhaps. Or... alternatively, it is this: damned if you don't, but if you do, understand why. Just like playing a game, if you don't follow the rules you won't enjoy it. The rules do not make the fun, they only facilitate it. Christmas should not be about presents, but it should be about generosity. It should not be about any of the landmark symbols we depend on, but those things should remind you of something, bring you closer to something. Even family has built in flexibility; you don't have to have family to have family. A family is a clan, a group of people who sometimes think very differently but are forced to put up with their differences because that's what life and unity is about.
At the end of the day, all of the people who have ever done anything of widespread importance have been rule breakers. You cannot simply follow the pack and the established order of things and at the same time change anything that matters. Yet, the rule breakers - the Einstein's of the world - could never do what they have done without first understanding the rules, and why they exist.
So as you go on with your New Year and try to comply with the resolutions you've set for yourself, think not so much about what the rules are, but why you made them in the first place. And in North American style, don't ever be afraid to break them to make a change.