A friend of mine made a great point last night. He shared his view that an agreement is different from a rule. An agreement is something freely entered into by all parties. A rule is something that has to be followed, whether we like it or not.
For example, I meet with a group of men every week, and we have an agreement that everything said in our meetings is to be held confidential, or private. If it were a rule, there would be no choice in it, and no room for negotiation or discussion. You either abide by the rule, or you break it.
Do you have agreements in your life that feel more like rules? Sometimes an unexamined agreement can harden and calcify into something that ends up feeling like a rule. For example, my wife Kate and I have different modes of being in the morning. I’m slow to wake up, and borderline grumpy, and like to be relatively quiet until after breakfast. She likes to talk about what’s on her mind. We’ve talked about this some in the two years we’ve been married, but we haven’t reached an agreement yet that feels good to both of us, so the danger is that I might try to unconsciously establish a rule about it that says something like, “Don’t talk to me until after breakfast”. That probably wouldn’t work, and I’m realizing now that it would be a good idea to talk about this in a more conscious way, and reach an agreement that feels good to both of us.
There seems to me to be a correlation between agreements and requests, and rules and demands. When, in nonviolent communication, we make a request, we are prepared to accept “no” as an answer. A demand, like a rule, is either complied with, or rejected. Marshall Rosenberg, who originated the NVC model, says that anyone who makes a demand will surely be punished eventually.
I’m going to be taking a new look at the agreements I’ve made — with myself, and with others — and see which have calcified and hardened into rules. I invite you to do the same, and let me know what your find out.
This is a new game, and we’re writing the agreements as we go along…