Monday, October 20, 2008

Robert's Rules of Order

Now it is Monday, so it should be time for Monday Morons. But I don't want to put that label on this post. I don't think that these people are morons, but I just wanted to point out that I was a little surprised at something.

People seem to have gaps in their education. When you are in school, some of your subjects involve trying to learn to do something, like math, while other subjects are mostly memorization, like history. Some people are better at some thing more than others. And then after school is over, we keep learning things, but also we forget a lot of the stuff that we learned in school. I don't have a career that requires me to use complicated math, so I've forgotten how to do a lot of it. And most of that memorization that we did for history didn't get memorized permanently. A bunch of stuff that used to be in my brain soon got filed away under --not useful in my everyday life-- and --not really that interesting to me personally. I then learned other things, which often later were also filed under not useful or not interesting. And then there are still other things that are either useful or interesting, but I don't really use them that much, so I still tend to forget them. But often I at least remember that I used to know them.

My husband was laughing at this guy on Millionaire who missed one of the easy first five questions. It was something about Hannibal going over the mountains with elephants. I don't know anything about Hannibal going over the mountains with elephants either, so if that had been me I would have missed the question too. While I know a thing or two about elephants, I don't remember anything about Hannibal. Knowing about Hannibal is not something I have to know in everyday life, and I guess that it wasn't that interesting to me, so it was quickly filed away as unimportant.

So I'm very aware that people have these little gaps, as I have them as well.

So it happened to come up last week that a lot of people I know don't seem to know about Robert's Rules of Order. Not that they don't have the whole thing memorized, not that they don't know what is to be done in certain situations when one should be using Robert's Rules of Order, but just that when Robert's Rules of Order are mentioned that they don't even know what you are referring to.

I thought that they were joking.

Robert's Rules of Order is just a book about rules on how you should conduct a meeting. It's just a book. It isn't the Bible or anything. It's some rules made up by this guy named Robert. But the guy put a lot of thought into his little book, and the rules are very useful, and over time this has become the standard. So when you are at a meeting and someone says that they would like to make a motion that a vote be taken on whatever is being discussed, and then someone seconds the motion, and those in favor say "Aye" and those opposed say "Nay", then that is something from Robert's Rules of Order.

That's probably all that a lot of us will ever use of Robert's Rules of Order, unless you have to go to a lot of very formal meetings. There are more rules about who gets to speak and when, and how to move the discussion to something else, voting proxies, time limits on speaking, what to do in the event of a tie, etc.... But that's all very formal stuff that I very rarely have to deal with.

But while I know very little about the rules, I am very aware that the rules exist, and I happen to know that the name of the book is Robert's Rules of Order. And while I would not be terribly surprised if someone in their teens or early twenties didn't know what was meant by Robert's Rules of Order, I do tend to expect that people older than that might have heard of them, and I was really surprised to hear that mostly intelligent people my age or older had not heard of them.

How can there be grown people who have never heard of Robert's Rules of Order?


dmarks said...

I think Hannibal's elephants were sort of a miniature variety that lived in northern Africa, and are long extinct. Probably due to using them in silly wars and taking them into snowy mountains. There has been a Vin Diesel movie about Hannibal in the works for years. If/when this comes out, more people will know about the elephants. And probably a good proportion of those attending the first night will be expecting Hannibal Lecter.

I learned some about Robert's Rules of Order in civics class in Junior High, if I recall correctly. We also talked a lot about how the House of Representatives and the Senate conduct themselves. I guess anyone who watches C-Span can see Robert's Rules of Order at work, even though they are never referred to by name.

Mark J Daniels said...

I have to admit that I'm 36 and have spent a great deal of my adult life (prior to buying a pub) in meetings, but I've never heard of Robert's Rules of Order.

Is it an American-etiquette only book?

laughingattheslut said...


I know that Robert was an American, and that he wrote the book partially based on how Congress conducts their business. I don't know if other countries use the book or not.

My friends don't normally use Robert's Rules, we just sort of blurt out whatever we're thinking. But we had a bit of a disagreement over something that needed to be decided in a few weeks, and we had to vote on it Saturday. So it was agreed to use Robert's Rules so that everyone got a chance to talk (unless no one seconded that part of an issue needed discussion) and so that we would stick to the subject that we needed to discuss before the vote. It still took nearly two hours to vote on three or four things, which had to do with whether or not kids were allowed to be at a party where alcohol was being served. And there was a clear majority for most of it, until right at the end there was a vote on something that was a tie, and then the chair got to decide that.

laughingattheslut said...


I'm afraid that Hannibal first makes me think of Hannibal Lecter, and second makes me think of Hannibal on the A-Team. Hannibal taking a trek with elephants never entered my head before my husband was making fun of that poor guy on the game show.

dmarks said...

When the movie "Hannibal" came out, my first thought as "Oh, that Vin Diesel movie that has been in the works forever is finally out".

When it does come out, I am sure it will be compared to "Return of the King", another war movie with digital elephants. I don't think there is any way that the Vin Diesel movie will use live elephants except in a few very rare shots.

Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts said...

I must admit, I've never heard of Robert's Rules of Order either. Hmmmm.....

Dame Honoria Glossop said...

I've never heard of those rules either, so I looked 'em up.

"In 1876 General Henry M. Robert set out to bring the rules of the American Congress to members of ordinary societies with the publication of Pocket Manual of Rules of Order. It sold half a million copies before this revision of 1915 and made Robert’s name synonymous with the orderly rule of reason in deliberative societies."

That explains why I've never heard of them.

I guess the nearest thing over here would be Parliamentary Procedures, or the Standing Orders.

laughingattheslut said...

But see how that they were supposed to be for just average people to use, and not as complicated as Congress or Parliament. So I guess the rules for Congress and Parliament are even longer than Robert's Rules.

I suppose this all does help keep order, but no wonder it takes so long for Congress to get anything done.