Every summer I’d sit down a hundred or more kids and another thirty or so staff members. We’d go over the “most important rules” for summer camp. Being their leader, it’s natural that they look for me to go over rules and consequences, right? Thirty to sixty minutes we’d spend calling on different people, writing down things that we shouldn’t do while we were at camp. Many of the things they would say were duplicates. “Don’t hit,” one person would say, “Don’t punch,” the next. I know there is a difference between those two but I knew there had to be an easier way.
After a few years of going through this process and a dramatic change in leadership style, I realized that life comes down to two rules. It’s easy to create more, but if you were only going to follow two, make it these two. They are the most important rules.
Life’s two most important rules:
Important Rule #1: Be Safe. This encompasses most everything that we would normally write as “do not do.” Don’t hit, don’t punch, don’t kick, don’t bite, don’t swear, don’t call names, and don’t bully. Don’t. The redundancy of the original lists led me to the realization that it all includes being safe. Safe doesn’t only mean physically. There is such a feeling as emotionally and mentally safe as well, and yes, you deserve to feel it. If everybody can display safe behavior then we can all enjoy rule number 2, another must.
Important Rule #2: Have Fun.
You’ve got to. Life’s got a lot of crap it is going to throw your way. You’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to enjoy your moments and live it up a little. I tell my campers and staff that we can’t follow rule number 2 without rule number 1. I also tell them that the better they do with number 1 the more fun we will all have together.
It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s effective. Besides, if you made it past kindergarten you already have a half decent idea about what it takes to be a “good” person. You know that being physical (when uncalled for) is a bad thing. If you are physical you are simply doing so with (likely) knowledge that it is bad behavior. It could be impulsive or in retaliation, but 99% of the time when somebody gets in trouble they tell me they know it’s not right.
So why waste so much time going over rules? As if writing “no punching” on the whiteboard in front of the group, as opposed to “be safe” is going to stop somebody from punching. If a person is going to punch they are likely going to punch no matter what the rule. In the heat of the moment they are not going to make their fist and say, “Whoa, that’s right. It says no punching on the list of rules.”
This is effective because when you tell people they shouldn’t do something there is a chance they may have never thought to do that thing anyway.
Telling them they shouldn’t do that certain thing creates a visual image of that thing happening so they can think about not doing it. The problem is, some people are naturally curious (aren’t we all?). They may try to do the thing you told them not to, even though it never crossed their mind before.
There you have it, a simple, effective, and fun way to cover the most important rules of life. This has worked for the many kids I’ve worked with, and it is a great reminder that things don’t need to be as complicated as we make them. Define a good set of consequences to go with the important rules when they are not followed, and stick to those consequences. Straying too far from the set consequences gives no reason to follow the rules. Life should have rules, and one of those should be to have fun.
For more like this checkout Life Lessons From Summer Camp. This book was born to teach simple and effective lessons I have taken from camps and applied to life.