The other night my neighbor’s kids, ages 7 and 10—the same age as mine—were over our place. The four kids decided to play RummiKub, which I recently purchased thinking it would be a great game to play during our summer vacation (and yes, I’m counting down the days). While I didn’t grow up in a Scrabble-loving family like many of my peers (and I have the abysmal Scrabble skills to prove it), RummiKub was a family past-time of ours when our bellies were full after huge Sunday bagel brunches. And the stories of my dad rearranging the entire board, only to be left with one red 8 that we needed to put it all back together for—were legendary in our home.
So, when the kids began to play their game for the first time together, I put my arm on my husband’s shoulder, took in the idyllic scene and said, "This warms my heart."
But within five minutes, voices got loud and angry. There was interrupting and eye rolling, and I jumped in to see what could have brought all of this on so quickly.
As it turns out, there were two sets of rules under hot debate. When my kids put down a joker with two other 10’s, they were naming the color that joker was supposed to be, so that when there was a 10 of that color in hand, the joker could be used. My neighbors put down a joker with two 10’s, and in order to use that joker, both of the remaining 10’s needed to be in hand in order to make the swap.
One of my daughters yelled, "Well, I’m not playing that way because it’s JUST NOT FUN!"
And my other one suggested, "They’re our guests so maybe we should play their way this time."
There was much reciting of the written instructions, which made no mention of this distinction. And Alexa proved useless this time around.
They stood at an impasse for awhile, until they decided to just make another move and not address jokers in their close to bedtime, grumpy states.
In the grand scheme of things, this tiny and insignificant rule in a game seems like it has no bearing on our lives. Yet for me, it shined a light on how many of these small, unsubstantiated rules we let govern our worlds, and how our reaction to the rules of others impacts our abilities to be in relationships with them.
When everyone’s had a good night’s sleep and some space, we’ll inspire our kids to work out an agreement about how they can move forward playing a fun game they all love when they are working off a different set of rules—instead of deciding to never play that game again because their different set of rules makes them too different to find a solution. In this context, the latter approach may sound crazy, but I assure you 1) that’s often our gut instinct and 2) you can think of a moment in your career or your life where you chose to avoid the situation because of a small rule on which you couldn’t agree.
Now more than ever, we are sorted in our own factions because of a multitude of rules we hold to be true that ladder up to identities. When I coach or train leaders, I work with them to question their assumptions and what they believe to be "rules" all day long. In order to live in a world where people hold different beliefs, we must learn to value those differences, seeing them as opportunities to learn more about humanity. Once we do, we can step out of judgment on the origin of those rules and into curiosity about how we work within a context of common ground that is enhanced by differences, not divided.