Published: September 10, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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Will Rogers was America’s first, genuine, political humorist.  Bill Maher is Will Rogers on Red Bull.

Maher’s HBO show “Real Time,” skewers all kinds of political, religious and pop culture absurdity.  One segment, entitled “New Rules,” demonstrates the need for all of us to stop taking ourselves so seriously and change some of our latest, ridiculous conventions.  Example –

“New Rule: I don’t care if your phone takes pictures.  It’s a phone, not a Swiss Army knife.”

But why do we have rules?

Without company rules, people would show up whenever they wanted.  Without traffic and safety rules, there’d be thousands of accidents.  Without rules in sports, athletes and coaches would treat people… Wait, some of them already treat people unfairly. Well, without rules they’d treat more people unfairly.

On a basic, societal level, rules remind us to be respectful, honest and fair.  They teach us to be accountable for our actions.  When employers, teachers, and coaches become lax in explaining or enforcing rules, they cultivate a climate where liars, cheaters and thieves flourish at the cost of those who are trustworthy and hardworking.

One of my favorite anecdotes about the importance of rules comes from Arnold Palmer through a story he shared in my book, “What Do You Stand For?”

“I have always felt that you should treat everyone like you’d like to be treated, and I’ve practiced that with almost everything I do.

“My father prided himself on simple, clear logic. He was a very honest man with great integrity and a lot of very heavy feelings about people and how they should be treated. He was a golf course superintendent and a Golf Pro, and he was very protective of the people that worked for him.  Sometimes, in country clubs, he would have a situation where maybe the people that are working at the club are not given the same respect that he felt they should.

“Not surprisingly, he had the same, simple reverence for the rules of the game. The rules were there to be followed because that meant the game would be the same kind of challenge for everybody. He was the man whose hard rules and painful lessons had made me everything I’d become, everything I stood for.

“He was as rigid and unyielding on the rules of the game as any U.S.G.A. official I ever knew, and that’s one reason I learned the rules thoroughly at an early age. He preached relentlessly on the importance of replacing divots and repairing pitch marks, and woe be unto the player – regardless of whether it was his own son or the club president – who failed to treat the golf course with the kind of respect Pap deemed necessary and proper.

“He developed even more rigid beliefs about what was right and what was wrong, what a good man did or didn’t do. You didn’t borrow money. You didn’t take what wasn’t yours; you didn’t lie, cheat, or steal.

“It was also drilled into me that a golf course was a place where character fully reveals itself – both its strengths and its flaws. As a result, I learned early not only to fix my ball marks but also to congratulate an opponent on a good shot, avoid walking ahead of a player preparing to shoot, remain perfectly still when someone else was playing, and a score of other small courtesies that revealed, in my father’s mind, one’s abiding respect for the game.

“In a nutshell, Pap had no patience with people who chose to ignore the rules and traditions that made golf the most gentlemanly game on earth.”


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