Unwritten Rules

Recently, tempers flared in a close game between the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels. The Angel pitcher got mad at a Tiger who ran the bases too slowly after hitting a home run. In baseball, there’s an unwritten rule that hitters shouldn’t do that because it taunts the pitcher. Late in the game the pitcher threw the ball at at a Tiger to retaliate for this boorish behavior. He missed, but he was ejected anyway because he threw too close to the batter’s head. There’s an unwritten rule that it’s OK to throw at batters to retaliate for bad behavior, but it’s not OK to throw at someone’s head.

That got me thinking about unwritten rules. Ignatius was good at both written and unwritten rules. He’s famous for his 22 rules for discernment of spirits, which guide us in the tricky business of distinguishing good spirits from bad. But he also greatly cherished “our way of proceeding.” This is the collection of “unwritten rules” that guide the way Jesuits and others with an Ignatian perspective operate and think about things. It’s hard to pin down “our way of proceeding.” Much of it’s subjective. (How slow is too slow when you’re running the bases after hitting a home run?) You’ll find some efforts to describe our way of proceeding here and here.

I’ve noticed some of these Ignatian unwritten rules in my years working in Jesuit/Ignatian organizations. One of them is a propensity on the part of managers to give people a lot more freedom in their work than bosses ordinarily would. I’ve also noticed a tendency to take time–often a lot of time. Projects can unfold slowly (not always, certainly).

I used to like clear directions and an aggressive schedule. I’ve come to see the wisdom of setting a direction and letting things unfold in God’s time.

Image by zutaten under Creative Commons license.
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Jim Manney
Jim Manney is the author of highly praised popular books on Ignatian spirituality, including A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer (about the Daily Examen) and God Finds Us (about the Spiritual Exercises). He is the compiler/editor of An Ignatian Book of Days. His latest book is What Matters Most and Why. He and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. I appreciate the links provided for “our way of proceeding” and I am learning to be comfortable “letting things unfold in God’s time” but it isn’t an easy lesson. Thanks for this post.


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