The Rules of the Game of Life

the eighth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test

The eighth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test.

Knowing the rules of a game is necessary in order to achieve the possibilities that emerge as a function of the rules. At the same time rules create limitations through boundaries, they also enable the possibility of much greater achievement. With a common language or at least a translation bridge built on specific rules, the value of meaning and purpose can emerge where it otherwise wouldn’t exist.

When we begin to explore the sources from which we acquire the rules for what could be called “the game of life”, we see that much of it is not clearly defined or well organized. A few things are fairly apparent; “Look before navigating traffic”, “Be prepared for the weather”, but the vast majority of life rules is a mushy hodgepodge of murky ill-defined soup. Indirect communication is the mainstay of the ink that spatters on our map of life. No one ever sits us down and explains the vast majority of things we learn to hold as true and use as a rudder to steer our experience of life. The rules leak into our state of awareness from between the lines, underneath the text and from the margins. This inky spatter can look like a Rorschach inkblot test onto which we can project any number of things. We sometimes learn to conjure demons that aren’t real and do battle with them drawing our peers into our imaginary fray. We can paint villainy and virtue on our social landscape without respect to fact, built only on the word salad we learned to concoct without a firm understanding of the destructive outcomes which we blindly drive.

Some life rules that drain our potential can only be teased out of the darkness and understood with great effort, and that is just to identify them. It says nothing of being able to change the disciplines that powerfully steer our behavioral communication. An even greater challenge than understanding the complex intertwined shadings is translating them into an intentional move toward a fulfilling state of being. Each of us is equipped with a set of rules – how we think things work, what is attractive, what is repulsive. Many of these are unstated. Here are a couple examples of what is meant here by unstated life rules:

Unstated life Rules #416: I was brought up in an environment with an unpleasable tyrant. I learned without words to believe that it was my job to please the unpleasable tyrant. I got the message that they mattered, and I did not. I would attempt to do this by tiptoeing around their violent moods, or running around frantically when they barked a command or if I thought they wanted something. They behaved as if their satisfaction was the centerpiece of my life and I wholeheartedly believed that rule at the same time I felt rejected and hopeless. I lived with frequent bouts of stress, disappointment and self-loathing because I thought I failed and I was a failure. As a grown person I blindly looked for those same kinds of relationships. When I found someone who was like that or who I could mold into a tyrant I proceeded to bleed myself in a futile attempt to make their insatiable lives happy. Again and again I failed, because that is who I was – a failure.

Eventually I bred with someone of this tyrannical caliber and found my offspring subjected to the same poison environment that crippled me. I fooled myself to think that I could somehow compensate. Eventually, after much angst, I got away. I made sure no child of mine would know that their needs and their self-esteem were not important. Out of this combination of partial delusion and avoidance I unwittingly produced the very tyrant I thought I escaped from. I did not realize that my sacrifice to give everything came with an unintended gift: Unrealistic expectations that would cause the the very tyranny I ran from. It was no pleasant ride for my offspring either. They were geared up for a lifetime of frustration built on unrealistic expectations and a failure to grasp that fulfillment can only come from sharing and receiving a balance of nourishment within a community. By the time I realized my horrific error – that I had fallen in the same trap – more accurately never left – I was unemployed as the primary means of shaping the identity of this tyrant whom I thought I loved so much. As they set off on their own road of destruction I prayed that somehow the cycle would end. I watched helplessly as they repeated the same cycle of destruction with a fresh coat of glittering delusional paint. My knowledge that abuse is an engine with two pistons instead of one came too late, and the momentum of destruction continued…

Unstated life Rule #417: To protect my destructive tendencies I confuse painful but accurate observations that would improve my life with hurtful insults. Because of this, I don’t face facts that would help me lead a more fulfilling life so I continue damaging myself and others and buff my shiny armor with a gritty polish made of self-righteousness and imagined offense.

Unstated life Rule #418: My behaviors undermine the very things that nourish my life. I am well aware disease can take over a body and destroy it to serve the disease, but it doesn’t occur to me that this is exactly what is happening to my life and that I actively perpetuate the destructive course. Because I don’t see this, it doesn’t occur to me to reach out for help. Should any help happen to come into my life, I am repulsed by it. In addition to being infected, I am contagious. I transmit the same disease I carry to others who are vulnerable. I falsely think my problems are because the world doesn’t behave the way I think it should. I portray myself as a victim and rather than take responsibility for my own role in shaping life, I diminish and destroy myself and others because of my infection. Rather than bring balance, I swing the pendulum from one extreme to the other.


The point here is that the belief systems we pick up are often very subtle. It is important to realize that we are not human “knowings” – we are human “beings”. So much of who we are is shaped by being in the moments we have been and those in which we are, not by whether or not we have the capacity to understand the depths of that being, nor its power to shape what we experience. The truth can set us free, but it does not render itself to the casual observer.

Self-discovery is a product of committed and sustained action. The truth that emerges is not a flattering companion that respects our feelings. It simply is what it is – an unvarnished look at what we do and what that doing means – and that can be the hardest truth of all to face. It is also the only way we can understand that a fulfilled life demands balance. Too much water drowns us, too little dehydrates us. The end result is the same – destruction. The center of the target is the goal. To miss the mark in any other direction merely brings more imbalance which is the very nature of dis-ease. And balance is the real rule of the game of life.

8 responses to “The Rules of the Game of Life

  1. Looking back I wonder what forces shaped my life, made me decide one way or another. There certainly was chance, but the older I get the more I realize how my beliefs shape my decisions. Excellent post!

  2. What a beautiful use of colors! Do you have a favorite color?

    • Actually, that picture is the eighth blot of the Rorschach inkblot test. It is not my own. It is designed to be an open ended ambiguous picture that reflects the inner workings of the observer. Were I to guess, you see beauty in a lot of places! Thanks for sharing.

  3. As an educator, I try to instill the importance of a work-life balance to my students. It is truly one of the hardest skills to learn.

  4. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Your words really, really speak to me, because as I write, I recall the day and the thoughts and how I felt on the day, but THESE days I have the wisdom of afterthought, and I see myself make errors.

    Love how you “got away” and with your child.

    Really deep, and of true meaning, your posts.

    • Noeleen, Thank you so much for the feedback. This particular post was actually inspired by your blog. Thanks for doing what you do. Speaking from personal experience, I know it is not easy, but I am glad you are taking up the daily challenge and moving toward something more intentional, purposeful and meaningful. – Joe

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