Rules of Self-Governance

I’m a big fan of David Cain’s A post from 2017 entitled Wise people have rules for themselves is one that a come back to frequently.

In short, he makes the point that productive and consistent people don’t leave important (or even some trivial) aspects of their lives to chance. They create rules for themselves around certain behaviours and tasks. He also makes the point that others often attempt to undermine or discredit those who create rules for their own self-governance by labelling them as joyless, rigid, or overly competitive. Cain likens this to the “tall-poppy syndrome.” I had to look up that one.

It refers to a legend involving the really awful tyrant king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. His son, Sextus Tarquinius, also an evil piece of work, was trying to set himself up as the king of Gabii, an ancient city to the west of Rome. He sent a messenger to his father asking for advice. As a message, the father went around lopping off the tallest poppies in the garden. It was a message to kill all of the prominent citizens so as to gain control. Of course the obedient son set to work doing just that.

The idea that Cain suggests herein is that by discrediting the methods of successful and productive people, they normalize their own lack of self-governance.

The empirical evidence, of course, is that productive and creative people leave little to chance. But organizing their lives around rules or processes that increase the chances of success. Some of my own rules revolve around the ways in which social media poses risks to how I use my time. To prevent social media from consuming an inordinate amount of time in the real world, I limit the ways in which I use social media by applying rules. For example, I can only log into Facebook once a day. And once logged-in, I can only use it for 5 minutes.

Of course, there’s the risk you will be regarded as rigid, joyless, competitive, or worse. C’est la vie.