You need to know the rules so you can effectively bend them to meet the changing needs of your environment.
I’m a rule breaker. Well, maybe more of a bender. I believe in spirit and intent, as sometimes rules take time to catch up with reality.

Going into this past weekend, I was really looking forward to Captain America: Civil War. I’ve long said I am Iron Man, and identify with Tony Stark as someone who has had to figure out how to lead without the suit. However, when it comes to Team Iron Man or Team Cap, I’ve been Team Cap all the way.

While I say I’m a rule bender (Tony frequently bends, shapes or ignores rules as he sees fit), I have a firm grasp of what I see as right and wrong. I understand the rules – all the nuances of the rules – to make sure I don’t put a toe past them.

If Tony and Cap are each on one side, then I know Cap is going to be squarely on the side of right. That’s just what he does. In effect, he’s the balance Tony needs.

At least that was my position going into the weekend. The reality, as expected, is murkier than a strict definition of right and wrong.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you may want to stop here. Spoilers ahead.




I’ll assume you saw the movie if you’re still reading. What did you think? I was enthralled and my 8 year old didn’t squirm in his seat for a minute of the 2.5 hours. That’s a huge endorsement right there.

Rules alone are just a stack of paper

So, that whole rule thing. The premise of Civil War comes down to a stack of papers. While the Avengers defend the world from threats (of this world and outside it), they often leave destruction in their wake. Collateral damage – lives lost, families ripped apart, and cities decimated.

The world decides they need oversight, as does Tony. He believes that rules, structure and outside governance of the Avengers will somehow prevent the bad things from happening. Or, more likely, that he can absolve himself if they are under the direction of others…vs living with the accountability.

Cap, on the other hand, believes that those rules will put them in an untenable position at some point. Either they will be asked to fight a fight they have no business in (not like we don’t have examples of that throughout history) or to step away from a fight they shouldn’t.

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Rules are printed in black and white – adhering to them shouldn’t be

Throughout the story, events unfold in a way that point to Cap being naïve and/or in the wrong. He defends a friend that doesn’t appear to rate defense. Who has done bad things, even if they were against his will.

Cap breaks the rules to prevent those that write the rules from killing his friend. Turns out, he was right. Eventually, Tony sees that. However, by then he had agreed to the rules and had to figure out how to operate within them.

By the end of the story, there is no way for Tony to do the right thing and stay within the rules. So he breaks them and asks Cap not to tell.

There’s more to the story – everything quickly goes downhill and sets up for the next movie. However, the theme of rule setting and breaking was intriguing. Throughout the story, each situation was set as black or white, right or wrong. Then, nuance was added and viewers had to shift our perspective.

Much like real life.

Spirit and intent is the middle ground of following the rules

We are all subject to a lot of rules in our life. Whether it’s a student or employee handbook. Rules of the road. The laws of the country in which we reside.

There are strict boundaries that limit and establish consequences for egregious behaviors. There are often guidelines or suggested behaviors to make life – or work, school, etc – easier to navigate.

But not every situation fits within every rule. Nor should they. Today, the pace of change is exponential. By the time governing bodies figure out that a new rule is needed, or an existing one adjusted, the situation around us has changed.

Strict adherence to the letter precludes innovative thinking, adapting to the situation at hand, and – frequently – common sense. Yet, without rules, there would be complete chaos and anarchy.

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Somewhere, there is a middle ground between Team Cap and Team Iron Man.

Cap has to recognize the risk of collateral damage if we chuck the rule book and live life only by what we think is right in the moment. Tony, on the other hand, must recognize that the rules do not prevent collateral damage, and no matter who is making the rules, we are each accountable for our actions.

Knowing the rules – the strict boundaries they are meant to represent – and then operating with spirit and intent of those rules is the middle ground. That’s what Team Avenger must become. What we must all do to function within the fast pace of change without complete chaos.


Do rules and oversight bring you comfort, like Tony, or a sense of impending doom like Cap? Or, do you think there is a middle ground we can all find? Please share your thoughts on the movie, or this article, in the comments.

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