Sunday, January 7, 2018

Three Rules we should have learned even before kindergarten

Twenty-some years ago, or longer, I received, as a present, Robert Fulghum’s book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. I admit to not reading it past the first few pages, but I have recently been thinking about the simple rules which I think, if followed, would make life a lot better for all of us. I am not sure that I – or we – were even as old as kindergarten when we learned them; on the other hand, my mother was a kindergarten teacher so maybe I learned them early.

For the record, here are Fulghum’s lessons:
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don't hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
7. Say you're SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

These are good. Some, perhaps are a little hard, and maybe even a little specific. Some work better in some contexts than others (#9 -- do this less often when you live in a desert; #10 – not if you’re gluten or lactose intolerant). I was thinking of 3 rules which, regularly violated in the world in which I live (and, I’m certain, often by me), would, if followed, make life much smoother and more pleasant.

So – “Josh’s rules”:

1.      Don’t try to do two things at once.  Despite its popularity, “multi-tasking” is impossible; the best we can do is move quickly between activities. This can work in the office setting, and makes one more flexible. It is really courting disaster when driving a car. It can also be pretty irritating to people you are with and are supposed to be talking to when you are also trying to do something else (and if that something else is playing games on your phone, don’t expect them to care a whit about you, either).

2.      Look where you are going. This, a shorter version of Fulghum’s lesson #16, is really only a special case of my rule #1. Bumping into people because you are staring at your phone, or just looking back or to the side while continuing to move forward (or stepping back in a crowd) can cause a collision. Of course, when you are driving a car (or a boat or train!) it is even more important!

3.      The Golden Rule. Usually phrased as “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. While this version is considered Christian, in that it is in the New Testament, Matthew 7:12 (from the Sermon on the Mount), it has parallels in most other cultures and religions. I’d say that while the positive form is good, it is less critical. Yes, it would be nice if others would give you a bunch of money, but you can’t be expected to do that to everyone. Mostly it is about context; if you were a poor beggar you’d hope people would give you a little money, so maybe you should consider giving some if you can afford it. But the negative form is more important: DON’T do things to others that you wouldn’t want them to do to you. This includes Fulghum’s lesson #3 (“Don’t hit people”) and its congeners: Don’t make war. Don’t spit in people’s faces. Don’t be mean to people. Don’t be cruel. If we didn’t do these things, the world would be a much happier place.

Sometimes we use the profound logic of these rules as fodder for jokes. For example, how fun it is to do things that are ridiculously dangerous. I remember this concept crystallized by the character Ziva David in an episode of NCIS: “What’s so hard about driving? You go as fast as you can, and if something is in the way, turn!” Of course, this is incredibly stupid even as said; what if there is something in the way when you turn? But it sounds cool, especially to adolescents (and more especially adolescent boys) and causes accidents, big and small, fender benders and fatalities. Plus other folks driving this way is actually what is responsible for slowing traffic on freeways! Variations on this concept abound, and are uniformly bad ideas.

There are people who understand these rules but don’t believe that they apply to them in the same way they do to others. Such people are called narcissists. There are other people who don’t believe that these rules should apply to anyone. They are sometimes called libertarians, but most often morons. Then there are the most of us, who believe that these rules should apply to everyone, including ourselves, but more or less often violate them. We are not perfect. But we can strive to do better.

And I really like Fulghum’s lesson #12!

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