(A ten minute read)
Every game, every endeavor, has rules. It must, or there is chaos. Formal rules, universally agreed-upon, bring stability and a sense of safety. They make healthy relationships possible. If life had nothing other than agreed-upon rules, it would be easy and simple.
But it doesn’t. Life has many unwritten rules that spoil it. They tell us one thing, but deliver quite another. You know them. You know these rules. They are pervasive and persistent. They lie to us, saying our security and happiness come from More, Bigger, Louder, and Gotcha.
Life offers much better than these, but only when we slow down to look and listen.
If you’re like me, you choose differently. More, Bigger, Louder, and Gotcha aren’t important. You’ve rejected these unwritten rules as falsehoods. You recognize you are worth more.
The point is that I don’t have to follow the unwritten rules of More, Bigger, Louder, and Gotcha. I can choose other paths, and hope you may be interested in walking them too. It’s my hope that Pleasant Lines is a place where we can safely consider these things together.
I’ll get to the danger of these unwritten rules momentarily. And, we’ll look at where can go from here. First…
How did Pleasant Lines come to be?
This project has been long in the making, and has moved forward in fits and starts for more than 20 years. But, the time has come for commitment to a movement. A movement to see reconciliation replace reaction in daily life.
The journey began for me late in the last century (I love writing that phrase). I was a too-rapidly-aging radio veteran waiting to be washed up on the shore of my mid-life crisis until I met with a happy accident. A detour as an online deadline writer pushed me forward in a new direction.
It was simultaneously the best job I ever had and the worst job I ever had. The best part involved creative freedom and the need to drive 5,000 words a week out of myself on strict deadline. For that crucible, I am grateful. The worst part was an amplification of my radio studio mentality.
After a quarter century in small, brightly-lit rooms talking to myself, I then spent several more in a small, brightly-lit cubicle talking to no one.
In the early days of the World Wide Web, adequate feedback mechanisms did not exist. There was no instant gratification. Windows Media Player had not yet been invented. It was a pre-social media universe. There was “No Comment.” The audience was behind a veil. It was like shouting down a well that did not echo.
It was a sensory deprivation tank.
Eventually I crashed and quit writing altogether, cold turkey. Some years later my daughter revealed that she wanted to use writing more frequently as a creative outlet, to augment her painting, drawing and craft work. What was my thinking?
“If you want to write, you have to write! Daily. Regularly. With discipline and purpose, whether you have anything to say or not.” Standard advice, blah blah blah, but easier said than done.
It’s always hard to start with the blank page, screen, slate or mind. The old joke about Plagiarist’s Block reappears, laughing. Cavorting with a Muse is rarely easy. She can be a demanding mistress, and her footwork is often fancier than mine.
Yet I find myself here anyway, back at the tiller of my favorite craft, tacking as close to the oncoming breeze as possible, for maximum speed and that wonderful, exhilarating feeling of recklessness that comes from sailing against the wind.
I have grown tired of doing anything else. May the wind never die.
Now, back to the unwritten rules.
What Do The Unwritten Rules Mean?
1. More: I should always aspire to get more of whenever I can.
2. Bigger: The more I have, the more secure I am.
3. Louder: Division leads to change.
4. Gotcha: My opinion is worth more than yours.
More of these unwritten rules could be articulated, and perhaps will be in a future writing (maybe you will help identify them!) But these will do for now.
1. More: The world is engineered to satisfy our selfishness and self-centeredness. Look up from your smartphone long enough to see how many others are not looking up from theirs! Society builds ever-taller monuments to vanity and empty-headed distraction. These attract us because we all instinctively search for something greater than ourselves. We want meaning to fill our empty spaces.
The world has a hollow answer to this need for meaning: More. Things from the Land of More are cheap, universal, and of seemingly endless variety. It is easy to pursue them and hard to pull away. Food, pills, booze, porn, cutting-edge technology, that new car: these were all sold as things to fill me and make me feel complete. Oh, they did for a while, but over time they hollowed me out.
More is merely a spiritual sugar fix: I feel good for a moment, then crash, then require More to temporarily feel good again. Sadly, no matter how much More I consume, I’m never satisfied. The idea of More is a counterfeit.
2: Bigger. When I got ahead in life, I measured my security by how big a pile I had, how much I owned or controlled. If More is about consumption, Bigger is about the size of my collection of things to consume.
This sense of Bigger security preys on many people’s minds. While we build ever-larger social monuments to Bigger, the use of anxiety medication is at an all-time high. People are afraid, and full of stress. More people are being treated for mental illness than ever before.
Clearly having a Bigger pile of stuff is not working as an antidote for anxiety.
I’m not arguing against personal advancement or prosperity., My suggestion is that when I chase what the world holds out as a reward, I lose myself bit by bit. There are bigger things at stake than Bigger, and it’s valuable to take a step back and consider them.
3. Louder: There are many injustices in this world, large and small. The world is broken. The unwritten rules say I should resist these things loudly, and protest against them and make some noise! Be Louder about what I am against. The popular term now is ‘resistance,’ a public fighting against what I dislike. I am expected to make this loudness part of my identity, if not my persona.
When a protesting crowd gathers to march and shout against a perceived injustice it does spur awareness. It is Louder than the surrounding environment. The message it sends is heard because it is Louder, but it is not necessarily a message that unifies or makes a change. When I shout at you, my increased volume only increases anger and division. Louder does not win you over.
When I am Louder against something, not for something, my meaning is lost. I tick you off by shouting over you, and you don’t hear me. I persuade no one. My victory of volume over the injustice is illusory; nothing improves and the injustice doesn’t go away simply because I am Louder.
This is not an argument for being quiet or passive in the face of evil. Rather, my acknowledgement from hard experience that I must listen to you before I speak my mind. Otherwise, I am not likely to say anything you will value, and you will know that I do not value you.
4. Gotcha: The amount of self-righteousness in the world is astounding, but not surprising. We even invent tools to amplify it, like smartphones, social media and 24 hour news channels. Their unceasing bombardment of unsolicited opinion and negative speculation could easily teach me that this is normal and acceptable in a relationship, if I allowed it.
Let’s take one obvious example, namely politics.
Perhaps I spend so much time with politics my identity is driven by my politics instead of the other way around. So you call me a name, like Libtard or Deplorable, depending on my point of view. The unwritten rule is that I need a Gotcha to get even. After all, if you disagree with me, you are an extremist, and possibly dangerous.
If I don’t have a mic drop moment, I lose. On the other hand, if I refuse to play the game, I can’t lose, and winning becomes irrelevant. Then, reconciliation and understanding and even agreement become possible.
What’s My Point?
I am interested in reconciliation, not persuasion. I would rather understand you than make you understand me. Admittedly, I often fail at this, but it’s my desire, anyway.
Just as I can freely choose being self-centered for More, Bigger, Louder and Gotcha, I can choose to focus on YOU instead.
What do YOU need? How can I serve YOU? How can I encourage YOU? How can I help YOU? These are critical questions for me because they force me to set aside my greed, my self-centeredness, my need to be first, or to be right.
Anyone can find dirt. It is more fun to pan for gold. Relationship should be a celebration, not a struggle.
What’s My Motivation?
As a born-again Christian, my motivation comes from Christ’s love, and a desire to better the world, not seek personal gain. I already have all the gain I need from God’s presence in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control.1
Again, I admit I carry none of these perfectly. Who could? But, with God’s help, I do the best I can and correct myself promptly when I’m hauled up short. Let’s join together through Pleasant Lines and encourage one another in this growth. Let us do so without an agenda, other than becoming more like God wants us to be.
Pleasant Lines is a place to express the love of Christ through creative writing and truthful testimony. Let’s be vulnerable and forthright, based on Scriptural truth.
Let’s be uncompromising about God’s word and never subject it to popular opinion.
Let’s encourage the faithful and touch the lost with God’s love, inviting all into a deeper relationship with Him.
Let’s dream the biggest dreams, the outrageous dreams that God has placed in our hearts. No vision of His is too big. No promise of His is too outrageous. No desire of His is unachieveable. Nothing is too hard for Him.
Where do we go from here?
You and I have an opportunity. To create. To share. To trust. To find the good in one another. To find the hidden treasure. To ignore the lure of More, Bigger, Louder, and Gotcha, and think along more fulfilling lines.
One of them is found in the book of Romans, where it says ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.’ 2
In other words, you and I can share our joy and excitement because there is never enough of that sharing. We can also support one another when life is hard, as it often is.
So, let us walk together.
1. Galatians 5:22, 2. Romans 12:15