Rules, rules, rules!
“You have an overdue book.” It was Bev at the Harlem Public Library.
“Oh my gosh. I know right where it is.” I rustle through a month’s worth of papers and documents from various civic meetings, which I had dumped into the wing chair, until I triumphantly heave the book out of the pile. I meant to read it. Really, I did. “I found it. I’ll bring it back right away.”
My face is red. This particular overdue book hangs over my head like a newly sharpened scythe. I really meant to read it. Well, I mean, I knew I should have read it. Not that I wanted to read it. Obviously.
“Robert’s Rules of Order.” Revised edition. The only authorized edition of the manual on parliamentary law. The classic 1915 edition with a new foreword by Henry M. Robert III. I never cracked the cover.
I should get a copy. Preferably used. A cheap paperback. Because even if I buy it, there is no guarantee I’ll read it. But, I should read it because I am on the Harlem city council and other boards and committees. During a meeting, when I am unsure of parliamentary procedure, I have to lean over and whisper to my nearest neighbor, “Do I need to make a motion on this?”
Recently I was railroaded into presiding over a group mandated by its bylaws to run meetings according to Robert’s Rules. At one time, back in high school, I had a fairly good grip on Robert’s Rules. But that was mumbledy-mumble years ago. My grip has loosened and the Rules have plumb slipped from my grasp.
My solution, at this group’s first meeting, was to appoint another member, more conversant with Robert than myself, to call me on my mistakes. I assured him that I needed his help and would not be embarrassed at all. “Just keep me in order,” I told him.
I don’t understand why I find “Robert’s Rules of Order” so daunting. I read technical books. For example, one night recently I sat down to review the City of Harlem Growth Policy, about three inches thick, and became so engrossed that I read the whole thing through before dawn. That led me to follow it up with the Blaine County Subdivision Regulations, not light reading by anybody’s account. I fully expected both these books to be dry as dust. To my surprise the Growth Policy and the Sub-Regs excited me, threw me into action. The next day I was on the phone calling several people to discuss various aspects of what I had just learned. I felt like I was climbing a ladder of ideas and information, rung by rung.
Services come to us so easily. We take so much for granted. We flick the switch for light. We turn the faucet for water. We pull the chain for the flush. We drive streets cleared of snow. We cross the creek on a bridge. We set the garbage in the alley. We never give these things another thought.
To me, this learning is exciting. Oh, so that’s how this works. So that is why we have this policy or these regulations. These are formulas which enable a community to run smoothly. It begins here.
I know I have a responsibility to the groups in which I participate, to help get things accomplished. So why am I loathe to crack the cover on “Robert’s Rules”? It doesn’t make sense to me. Is it something about the title—“RULES?”
Am I reverting back to the tough independent spirit of bred-in-the-bone Montanans: I’ll do it my way? No, I don’t think so. I lean toward the belief that we citizens must partner up, pull together in concerted effort to get anything worthwhile accomplished, especially the everyday things we take for granted.
So the next time I’m in Havre, I’ll buy a copy of “Robert’s Rules” at the book store. If I keep the book on the lamp table next to my reading chair, sooner or later I will pick it up, out of guilt or necessity. I’ll read it and I’ll learn some things. Maybe I’ll find it fascinating. I’ll make room for “Robert” in my life. We may argue from time to time, but I suppose we can learn to live together.
HDN: Looking out my back door
March 4, 2010