Making a Difference: More Rules or More Inspiration?

Rules or Inspiration

In the wake of terrible tragedies, the United States is faced with difficult decisions in the rules that it makes. The government must balance the personal freedoms of its people with the desperate need for safety.

To say it’s a heated conversation is vastly understating the issue.

And why wouldn’t it be heated? We’re all very interested in the rules we have to abide by. There are consequences to breaking those rules, after all.

I’m not against government or against the need for rules, but our rules are in place so that we can overcome the worst parts of ourselves. Inherently, there’s a very negative focus to statements like “don’t kill” and “don’t steal.” The rules are forced to admit that humanity has a terrible tendency to take things, whether goods or life itself, from our neighbors.

Rules are necessary.


On the other end of the spectrum is inspiration. Inspiration is what helps us to achieve the best of what humanity can be. We can reach the moon. We can end wars. We can create beautiful art. We can find peace within ourselves and with one another.

Inspiration also provides us another opportunity. You can have a say in the world, a chance to influence how people behave, by creating inspiration. Not all of us want to become elected officials. We don’t want to be the rulemakers or the rule-enforcers. We’re glad the structures exist (even if we’d like to see them change to one degree or another), but our toolkit differs highly from that of a politician’s.

We use art. We use motivational writing. We use spirituality. There are lots of ways that we can press towards finding the best in what we can offer the world.

We, as a species, are better fed and wealthier than we’ve ever been. Our quality of life on the whole is statistically better than it’s been in any point in history, yet people are struggling for purpose. They are desperate for meaning in this life. They are desperate for hope.

Rules are necessary, but they are only a part of the human experience.

It’s Possible to Be a Rule-Maker and an Inspirer

But it’s tough. I think we can look back at history and find people that were courageous enough to change the rules in order to do what’s right. These people fought the wars and the personal battles to effect change, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.

The good news is that we don’t have to be martyrs in order to make the world a better place.

We Can Choose to be Sources of Inspiration Daily

Being a source of light in the world is a much simpler (though it’s not always easy) decision. We can be the optimists in rooms full of pessimists. We can be the artists when others would default to blander options. We can be the ones who stop to talk in a society full of people who are too busy.

We have the choice. We have the chance.


  1. says

    One person I always found inspiring was Winston Churchill. My god, what an inspiring man. In case your history is rusty, after the horrors of the Great War (mustard gas, shell shock, and trench warfare) Europe was virulently pacifist. The Prime Minister who preceded him, Neville Chamberlain, read, correctly, I think, the prevailing view of the time that under no circumstances could another war be necessary or tolerated. As such, he and the other heads of Europe enacted a series of appeasement measures towards Germany, because, let’s face it, they really got a raw deal at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI.

    Hitler, of course, was banking on this, and directly after the appeasement treaty was signed, invaded Poland. Chamberlain fell from power, and Churchill inherited a raw deal– a continent on the brink of war or total annihilation, and a nation that all too keenly remembered the horrors of the Great War and wanted nothing to do with it.

    Can you imagine? Everyone is *howling* for peacetalks, but your enemy won’t give it. He uses your civilized behavior against you. You see the need for war, but you can’t wage it single-handedly– you have to convince people to be on your side. But who wants to be on the side of violence? How can you possibly convince people that war is right?

    You make them see that they are on the side of angels, and that your enemy is evil and despicable

    And that was the beginning of modern wars of ideology– Evil abounds in the world– we must stamp it out! That same inspiration is being used to fuel the wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and more. I think there needs to be balance. Inspiration can become a drug. Americans love to see themselves and the saviors and protectors of the weak — that’s why every theatre of war starts with a sad story about how people are suffering under a despot. People suffering at home don’t seem to get the same consideration because there’s no clear cut solution like “Kill the bad people and give em democracy.” Personally, a lot of the time I’d like to see a lot less heartstring pulling and more… I dunno. Rational thought?

    Churchill wound up being “right” and therefore used his powers for “good”. But I rarely see real life situations as clearcut as “We must work together to topple this genocidal regime” (But Bosnia was one)

    Sorry to derail your comments Michael. I kind got on a roll there.

  2. says

    I don’t know whether we need more rules or more inspiration. It seems like we have plenty of each, but perhaps just not the right kinds. What I can tell you is that the world needs more love.

    After I read the (great) headline and got about half way through the post, I started thinking about the Dixie Chicks song “More Love.” I haven’t listened to Country music in about a decade, but this was one of the songs that always stuck with me. Part of the chorus goes:

    “More love, to flow in between us. To take us and hold us and lift us above. If there’s ever an answer…It’s more love.”

    Although you offer up a great choice between two hugely important things – rules and inspiration – I think more love, more respect, and more understanding would be even better than more of most other things. I’m going to stop now before I get on a rant about other related things. :)

  3. michaelwroberts says

    I completely agree, Joel. Love is at the core of all of these topics. In turn, all of these displays of love and beauty are inspirational. For me, inspiration happens when I get to see people living this stuff out.

    These tragedies have played out in a very public forum, and we’ve been unable to do more than watch. We can react after the fact, but we are powerless to do something at the moment.

    My hope is that we see more of the things we value by adding more beauty to the world, in the way we act and in the way we create.

  4. michaelwroberts says

    I don’t think I’d ever heard this bit of history. I had the chance to go to the WWII museum here in New Orleans, and we got to see the way the media portrayed that war. It was interesting to hear more of the details behind the splashy headlines and to understand the difficulties these men and women faced.

    Inspiration and propaganda are like flip sides of the same coin, separated solely by motivation. To be honest, I rarely find things inspirational that are solely meant to create a specific emotional response. What I find the most moving is when people pursue their art or their cause simply because it’s a passion. It’s what they would do even if no one was looking. That usually comes from a very different place than what we see when a politician gives a rousing speech.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Please feel free to derail anytime. :)

  5. says

    Inspiration and rules can both be good, I agree. But, empathy/compassion is the strongest force in my experience. BUT, the thing about empathy is that it doesn’t come easy or natural for some, and I think the way to encourage empathy is to get more people to face pain rather than avoid it.

    I’ve observed (even in myself) that avoiding uncomfortable or painful situations is commonplace these days because we’re constantly being told to do whatever “makes us happy” or some personal growth expert will say to “stop watching the news” because it’s negative/depressing, etc.

    People are so busy promoting positivity, they forget that real life isn’t all positive and accepting that IS what will have the most positive result because that REALISM is what will teach people empathy.

    Real empathy is what moves people to look outside themselves, help others, and appreciate the value of a human life.

  6. says

    I almost feel like too many rules do more harm than good. As you say, they’re necessary, but at a point people stop thinking and doing and imagining for themselves because they’re paralyzed by rules, I think. We need a little wiggle room to let inspiration grow. Of course, finding the balance between freedom and the regulations that let us all live together in harmony is tough.

    I agree that love and empathy/compassion are integral, too. I think when people feel loved and understood, it’s easier to care about the world, those around us, and ourselves.

  7. says

    I’m with you, Joel. More love.

    I’m not a big fan of the rules although I do believe they’re necessary – too many differing opinions for the social contract to work without some rules – but the more we can operate from respect, understanding, love, and owning our own “stuff”, and the fewer rules we need, the happier I am.

  8. michaelwroberts says

    Empathy is a huge need right now. How would you reommend encouraging that trait in others? I know that the methods would differ for adults and kids, but my wife and I are trying to figure out the answer for our son. He is a sweet person most of the time, but he doesn’t get how important it is to think of what his sister may be feeling.

    Part of that is just developmental, but we still want to encourage empathy in him. And he is a good representation of America in general… so focused on his own thing that he misses the feelings of those around him. When he notices, he’s quite capable of caring, but there has to be that revelation moment.

  9. michaelwroberts says

    I’m really not a big fan of rules, but I’ve found them beneficial in creating. Having boundaries within which we can live / create allows to find unique solutions, but too many stifling rules just don’t help anyone.

  10. michaelwroberts says

    That’s what I want to spend more of my time doing… encouraging people toward those positive human traits instead of reminding them of the rules over and over.