As the US Women’s Team claimed the Team Gymnastic Gold Medal on 7/31/2012, it was bittersweet for Jordyn Wieber of the United States as the reigning World Champion.
While she competed in the Team competition and shares the Gold Medal win, she did not go on to compete in the individual all-around medal round.
That’s because although she placed 5th overall in the preliminary competition, a rule was put in place for the London 2012 Olympics that declared only the top two gymnasts from any one country could go to the finals. The spirit of the Olympic Competition has always been about the best in the world competing head to head. Because of this rule, she and her would be competitors were denied that privilege, and some argue the right she and they earned to compete among the best.
Unfortunately unintended consequences often result when a new rule is put in place to address a perceived shortcoming of the old rules or to right a perceived wrong.
There is something we can all learn from this as we think about the rules we put in place, whether it is to maintain order amidst the potential for chaos, to right a wrong, to protect people from harm, or to simply try to ensure there is fairness to all involved.
Rules can of course serve an important purpose. In the case of the Olympic Gymnastics, if the purpose of this rule was as it seemed to be - to ensure one country didn’t dominate the medal rounds - then perhaps they succeeded.
But did they do so at the expense of what many consider to be a principle of the Olympics – for the best in the world to compete against each other?
We will know whether the Olympic Committee thinks it was a “good” rule to add based on whether they change the rule for the next Olympic Competition or not.
Watching this unfold got me thinking about rules and principles, and how they each serve us in different ways when it comes to living and leading.
Here are some reflections…
- Rules are important when they protect us from the most extreme of potential damaging consequences.
…Yet it is our principles that will guide us in making intelligent choices, when attempts to enforce a rule reveals shades of grey, instead of the black and white world rules are usually are designed to address.
2. Rules can help us to set boundaries for ourselves and others, causing us to consider the consequences, especially if someone is considering breaking one.
…Yet it is our principles that will have us confront our conscience and consider our choice in the context of our integrity.
3. Rules don’t help us to make decisions. In fact, they often dictate a decision regardless of what our intelligence indicates “this just doesn’t make sense”.
…Yet it is our principles that will guide us and give us the courage to take a stand for doing the right thing whether there are any rules at all, and sometimes in spite of them.
4. Rules often need to change and adapt with the changing of the times.
…Yet our principles endure often crossing generations and binding our cultures together in the service of the greater good.
I’d love to hear from you. What do you think? Is there a #5 to add to this list?