Robert’s Rules as spiritual discipline

© Can Stock Photo/konurk

Readers of this blog know that I am conflicted about Robert’s Rules of Order. On the one hand, they offer key insights for fair and democratic meetings. On the other, the official book is too long, too complex, and too hard to read for most of us. After twenty years of reading and working with Robert’s Rules, however, I have to conclude that the insights are worth the trouble.

The fact is that Robert’s Rules offer us a way to tame our unruly egos and provide a structure for true cooperation. Recently I came across this striking passage:

Win/lose is the only game most of us understand. We have a constant unspoken need for domination and actually find no enjoyment in win/win situations.*

Is this true for you, reader? Or have you moved past the selfish self, and now live your life in generous connection, wishing every other person well?

True confession: I am committed to the broad view, and believe deeply in collaboration as a way of life. But when push comes to shove, I have just as much of a narrow and grasping ego as anybody else.

The advantage I also have is twenty years of practicing the fundamental principles of Robert’s Rules:

  • all members of a group have equal rights, privileges and obligations.
  • every member is entitled to an equal chance to speak and try to persuade others to their view.
  • the group is the final authority, not any one individual.

Teeny-tiny rules, or tool of spiritual discipline?

Robert’s Rules sometimes appears to be a rigid and confining set of teeny-tiny rules, whereas in fact, it is a superb tool of spiritual discipline.

Am I crazy? Has too much time in the thickets of Robert’s turned my brain? I would love to know your thoughts on this radical idea… send us your comments!

*Richard Rohr is the author of the quote.

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. Donna Cameron on April 16, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Such an interesting question, Ann! I’m inclined to think that anything—be it Robert’s Rules, a talking stick, or shared chocolate—that helps people to interact more effectively and more civilly, and thus advances humankind, qualifies as a spiritual discipline. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotations, by Robert Corin Morris: “The way we live our life is our spiritual practice—no more, no less, nothing but, nothing else.”

    • Ann Macfarlane on April 16, 2018 at 11:52 am

      Donna, that is a wonderful quote and I love it! I think you are right. Thanks so much for sharing this comment. I’m going to share the Morris quote as well.