- - Friday, July 20, 2012

In a nearly unanimous vote this spring, the delegates to the 2012 Utah Republican Convention disposed of Robert’s Rules of Order. The rationale behind the decision rested on the notion that parliamentary procedure is both cumbersome and ill-suited to modern times. In other words, the delegates thought they would be able to accomplish more in less time if they were not concerned with meticulous formalities.

Parliamentary procedure has been in existence since the eighth century B.C. and has functioned as the means whereby democratic institutions around the world appoint leaders and establish law. In 1876, Gen. Henry Martyn Robert synthesized the then-current norms of parliamentary procedure and published them in a book appropriately titled “Robert’s Rules of Order.” His purpose for doing so was to provide an “exact method for conducting business in any particular legislative body.” He was concerned that “as a people [Americans] have not the respect which the English have for customs and precedents, and are always ready for such innovations as we think are improvements .” Robert saw that without respect for and adherence to procedural rules of governance, the free spirit of innovation could give way to chaos and confusion. To this day, Robert’s Rules of Order remains the most widely accepted and commonly used form of parliamentary procedure in the United States.

How does an institution function without procedural rules of governance? The 2012 Utah Republican Convention provides an excellent case study. Although motions were made and votes taken, without a clear set of rules, the delegates found themselves lost and confused. Otherwise civil debates spiraled into childish bickering, and much time was consumed by emotional vitriol. After suffering a very personal attack, one of the delegates made a motion for personal privilege — a standard and permissible action under Robert’s Rules of Order — to address and possibly rebut her attacker in a civilized fashion. However, without the protection of Robert’s Rules of Order, she found herself at the mercy of the majority, and her motion was denied quickly. The scene was pure madness, as mob rule quickly gave way to collective paralysis. Without parliamentary procedure to guide them, the delegates were unable to make educated decisions or reach a consensus. Had parliamentary procedure been respected rather than abandoned, the result would have been entirely different. Without procedural rules of governance, no institution can function effectively.

Procedural rules of governance could benefit all institutions. Through my work as the director of a nonprofit that promotes familial peace and tranquillity through group seminars and individual coaching, I have witnessed firsthand the positive difference adherence to and respect for rules can make within the home. Children and parents alike crave structure. Rules provide that necessary structure by giving families a sure construct in which they are free to live and grow. Even simple rules are better than no rules in that they help family members focus their energies in a responsible manner that considers collective as well as individual well-being. A good example is the holding of a regular family meeting or council, or the sharing of chores based on a rotating schedule. If a family abandons or ignores procedural rules of governance, it risks slipping into disorder.

Without a cohesive family structure, children may become wild and unruly. They will lose respect for their parents in the same way that their parents refuse to demonstrate respect for rules. Next time your child is upset and you are unsure if you should give in, give up or ignore him, remember that adherence to and respect for rules is essential to a happy family.

Procedural rules of governance require both time and patience. Although it may often seem that they get in the way of innovation, especially in a world as fast-paced as our own, they are essential to orderly progress. They provide structure and, ultimately, beget happiness. For any institution to be successful — whether it be political, familial or otherwise — rules must be followed and respected.

Nicholeen Peck is president of Teaching Self Government.