Negative vs. Positive Rules

I’m at Friends General Conference Junior Gathering, serving as support staff with kids entering third and fourth grades. Some members of my group are rioting. Our two coordinators are nowhere to be seen.

My group’s cheerleader says she’s had a yen to lead a protest. This is her golden opportunity. Perched in a cherry tree she screams, "What do we want?"

"Soccer!" her followers chant back. It turns out that one of the support staff from a neighboring Junior Gathering group had made off with our soccer ball, and the shouting children wanted it back.

A member of the group suggested going to his tent to get a replacement. "No," the coordinator said. "It’s against the rules. We can’t let you go off on your own during group time."

Actually, what had been stressed at our orientation was that children in our age group couldn’t leave the group unless accompanied by one of the adult staff and at least one other child from the group. In retrospect, I realize that my creativity to come up with a solution had been inhibited by the negative terms in which the rule was presented. What if the rule had been expressed differently? "Children are allowed to leave the group if accompanied by a leader and at least one other child in the group."

Possibly we’d have realized that the whole group could have gone to get the ball. Ironically, we discovered later that the tent in question was quite close to the soccer field.

When we processed the whole episode the following evening, I was able to admit that my leadership had been stifled, not just by the situation but by the way the rules had been framed. I aspire to be a leader, and person, who accentuates the positive, and uses rules to benefit rather than oppress those for whom they’re meant.

Robert Renwick

Robert Renwick is a member of Morningside Meeting in New York, N.Y.