Monday, November 3, 2008

The Rules

22. The Rules

In this life there are two basic categories of rules – the kind that people make to suit their own needs, and the kind that nature makes to govern the universe. The rules of the natural world (physics and chemistry) we can not alter and must only know and obey. The rules that people make are another matter.
Among the rules that people make some are hard and fast and others are negotiable. My purpose here is not to lay all these various rules out for the reader nor to encourage “cheating.” I merely want to offer some suggestions to potentially emotional college students who may feel that the rules of their school and department have been created and enforced with the sole intent of frustrating them.
First, you are not the center of the universe. Get over it. The university office with which you have a problem is the center of the universe, their universe, that is. View the situation from their perspective.
They have certain official duties and mandates to work on problems within the limits and requirements of a larger administrative structure. To protect their own reputations and ability to perform their jobs they have to limit the ‘wiggle factor’ of their client base, the students and faculty of their department. They establish rules, deadlines, and procedures. These are rules made by humans for their own benefit. In other words, if they wish to, they can ‘bend’ the rule to suit themselves.
For instance, my alma mater only accepts graduate school applications for Fall admission. That way they limit all the evaluating and administrative detail work to once a year. But I can think of two students who started in January. Whatever they did wrong or right, the department chose to ignore its own rules about graduate students only starting in August.
Similarly, I was late delivering a final copy of my written thesis to the appropriate office. I don’t mean ten minutes, I mean the next day. Doom indeed. Luckily the administrators had built enough flex in their system and looked upon me kindly enough that my degree completion was not held up over it. They accepted my paperwork late. They might have chosen not to.
Allow me to make some suggestions.
Be nice to the office staff even when they can’t solve your problem. Learn their names. Treat them like problem-solvers.
Don’t have a lot of problems. Read your catalog and departmental guidelines so that you can have your paperwork in order and on time. They know exactly who the bad-attitude-no-forethought people are. Don’t be one of them.
Don’t say, “No,” to yourself too soon. If you are being thwarted by a rule or deadline, ask politely if an exception can be made in this case. Give them the opportunity to be human and heroic on your behalf. Don’t berate them if they can’t help you. They may be subject to the rules and deadlines of some other office. They may also be thwarted by a physical impossibility, say the truck has already left, or the person who must absolutely approve this is already on the plane to Zimbabwe. Preserve your congenial relationship with the office staff even in defeat. They will love you for your dignity and work harder for you on your next problem.
Of course there will be some future problem. Try not to have a lot of them, but don’t imagine that you’ll only ever have one. When it comes to rules, you probably won’t win every battle, but if you can avoid a hostile relationship with the office staff, you may well win the war.

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