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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Life

The Unwritten Rules of Baseball: The Etiquette, Conventional Wisdom, and Axiomatic Codes of Our National PastimeLast week, Alex Rodriguez supposedly broke yet another unwritten rule in baseball (it wouldn't be the first time he's done it) -- he crossed the pitcher's mound as a baserunner as he was returning to first base after a foul ball.

Actually, I've followed baseball a long time and I've never heard about this unwritten rule, but it sort of makes sense. Baserunners could quickly run a foot over the pitcher's landing point on the mound with the intent to mess with him.

Baseball, as well as life, is full of unwritten rules.

From the baseball perspective, you can find all sorts of lists of unwritten rules. You can even find books about the unwritten rules of baseball.

From the rest of life perspective, you can find lists of unwritten rules for men, the unwritten rules for cell phone etiquette, the unwritten rules of moving watching, the unwritten rules of social networking, the unwritten rules of elevator etiquette, the unwritten rules of Scottish country dancing, and you'll even find an entire blogs dedicated to the unwritten rules of relationships and the unwritten laws of life. Not surprisingly, you'll have a harder time finding a list of unwritten rules for women -- probably because nobody understands them well enough to come up with such a list.

When it comes to creating lists of unwritten rules, one might say that the list-maker is violating an unwritten rule that doesn't allow for unwritten rules to be written. But I don't think that's what "unwritten" really means. I think it means that nearly everything in life has a set of standards that do not need to be in an official rule book. They are just the accepted norm and most people are quite willing to police that norm.

For example:

Friends are not allowed to date the ex of a friend. If you try it, a complete stranger might even shout you down.

Everybody needs to wait his or her turn in line during a traffic jam. If one person tries to squeeze his way into the line in front of people who were waiting longer, horns will blare and gestures will fly.

Nobody is to speak or even look at one another when in an elevator. If you do, get ready for an icy stare.

Unwritten rules fascinate me. They tell us so much about accepted social norms. You know what would be even more interesting? If each generation were to find a writer to pull together all of the unwritten rules of that generation and publish it in a book. It might even help historians point to specific instances in which culture shifted one way or another.


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