If You Play with Fire, Know the Rules

By | April 6, 2021

[April 6, 2021]  There’s an old saying that says, “If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned.”  I think it was Bam Bam Bigelow – yes, that guy (390-pound professional wrestler and actor) –  said it, but others have expressed the same.  I always liked watching Bam Bam, but he was not exactly correct on this point about playing with fire.

As a kid, I had a Boy Scout folding knife.  I was proud of it, and the knife went with me everywhere, even to school.  One day on the school playground, my friend Wilson and I were taking turns throwing our knives between each other’s feet to see who would “wuss our first.”  Our teacher caught us and took away our knives.  How terrible that day was for two little boys.

If you take part in a dangerous undertaking (play with fire), a risk of causing harm or misfortune, then you had better know the rules of the game.  This means that you will “get burned,” but only if you don’t know the rules and thus fail to take them into account.  So, Bam Bam was right but only if you don’t educate yourself on a particular act’s risks.

You get the idea.  We know people who are always playing with fire: symbolically at least.  They are usually creative folks or those who want to do something good.  They want to break a few rules to get something done and done faster, more efficient, cheaper and better, and honorably.  Usually, they dislike bureaucracy.  And, anyway, who does like bureaucracy?  All that paperwork and organizational processes are such a pain.  Those rules are just there to get in the way.

In the U.S. Army, I had a Lieutenant Colonel who worked for me, who I liked.  What I liked most about him was his unique ability to find innovative solutions to complex problems.  He was very smart (he had a Ph.D. and degrees from three military War Colleges).  One day I heard that he planned a training event.  I would have caused significant disruption, so I put an end to it.  But, his thinking was spot on.  I permitted him to hold his exercise but only a little better preparation and risk reduction efforts.

As a kid, I never got over my knife sitting in the school principal’s desk drawer.  I never got it back.  But I did realize for the first time in my life that I had better know and understand school rules before I did anything like that again.  In the Army, I applied that rule and did pretty well.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “If You Play with Fire, Know the Rules

  1. Ronny Fisher

    Too bad you never got your Boy Scout knife back. I hope you bought one later in life to remind you that being stupid on the playground sometimes doesn’t pay off. 😊

    1. Plato

      “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” There is a lesson here in not getting back his knife.

  2. Dead Pool Guy

    Know what you are doing all the time. Don’t, however, be scared of new things and new people who you might meet. But, experience still counts. Get your behind out there and mix in with people and learn as much as you can from them. Thank you Gen. Satterfield for another great article.

  3. Joe Omerrod

    I’m glad you pointed out that those who often ignore the rules are creative folks and don’t necessarily have evil on their minds. Making the distinction is what leaders do.

    1. David Kells

      Right, not knowing the rules (socially inept, inexperienced, etc) will lead to failure anytime, anywhere.

  4. Greg Heyman

    Knowing the rules, regardless of the situation is necessary but understanding why is also important.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Just apply a little smartness to the situation and see how it plays out. 👍

  5. Max Foster

    Commonsense is in short supply these days. Don’t try to make sense here, Gen. Satterfield because everyone seems to believe that the old rules no longer apply and they can create new ones everyone will either agree to or they will destroy those who don’t believe. Sounds like old communism to me or fascism. Their methods are surely from the 1930s and 40s (except for all the killing of non-believers) but they would if they could.

  6. Stacey Borden

    Know the rules (like knowing yourself) and know the environment (like knowing the enemy) and you will win.

  7. Willie Shrumburger

    I have another idea and that has to do with the US media and other western media. They are making rules of the game up as they go. They are pushing to see how far they can invite in a destructive ideology into the nation without people catching on. They are given a boost by those like Nancy Pelosi (the most evil woman in the world right now) and others from the Democrat Party. Too bad we no longer teach that rules are there for a reason.

    1. Karl J.

      Good comment Willie. Just look at the US spending plan of 3 Trillion dollars (or was it 5). The numbers are mindboggling. And nearly none of it has to do with any infrastructure as it is touted to be about.

  8. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Excellent article, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks for the analysis on what once considered commonsense. Too bad we have to teach grown ups something a kid should have learned in the first grade.

  9. Forrest Gump

    Yes! But that is no longer required of our snowflake generation. BLM and antifa have assured us of that.

    1. Jeff Blackwater

      Ha Ha , stupid is as stupid does, as you say Forrest.

    2. Janna Faulkner

      Our gentle nation of weaklings have arisen to take their place in the annals of history and we will look back upon them with disbelief that those who are so weak and stupid could actually accomplish anything.

      1. Rev. Michael Cain

        So true, Janna. Let’s hope they wake up one day and realize that they have become the supporters of fascism in all its ugly vision.

        1. Mr. T.J. Asper

          I’m not so sure this is what is really going on and I don’t think anyone actually has a good handle on things. Yes, a US president is completely out of it mentally and is unable to walk unassisted. But because there is a power vacuum, someone is filling in for him. That person was not elected and deserves to be exposed.


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