Lessons from the Playground

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By Dave Henderson

My daughter is a teacher at a Daycare Center. Her class is composed primarily of children aged 18 months to less than 3 years. She loves her job and is quite enthusiastic in her efforts to maintain a balanced atmosphere of structure and sanity, all the while offering an education to such a challenging element of humanity. She and I have an opportunity once or twice per week to “catch up” by phone, and when we do she oftentimes entertains me with stories of “oh, Dad, I have to tell you what one of my kids did today” or “Dad, you would not believe what one of my kids said today”; so forth and so on. It always amuses me to hear such accounts of the doings of the toddlers of today, and of course, at the same time these conversations allow me the opportunity to reminisce in my mind about the doings of and sayings of my daughter and her brothers; back when they were toddlers themselves. Ever amusing are the philosophies of preschoolers, and equally amazing are their actions in the pursuit thereof!! Having spent several years of my own youth in the care and oversight of a Day Care facility, I am able to relate on so many levels to these conversations I have with my daughter. And, oftentimes as I reflect upon some of the amusing phone conversations that she and I have, I find myself theorizing that perhaps humanity would do well to revisit the days of our youth, by contemplating the lessons of life one learns on the playground…

One of the most noticeable curiosities of the playground experience, is that of the issues at stake in the conflicts of the children. And, conflicts there are, and arguments there will be! Yet, at least the issues that move children to argue or fight, make a certain level of sense, albeit their actions are oftentimes misguided. For example, say a dominant child knocks a passive child off a swing, and then occupies that swing himself (or herself whichever the case may be). I suggest that the younger the dominant bully in such a scenario, that the chances are that the reason for such actions were as basic as being that he experienced an overwhelming desire to occupy the swing where the passive child sat, and that he/she acted upon such a desire by exercising dominance over the more passive child; thereby stealing the experience and the enjoyment of swinging for himself/herself. Now, although I am not justifying the actions of the dominant bully in this scenario, I do maintain that the rationale which compelled such actions were not personal feelings towards the passive child, but rather were selfishness and insensitivity. In other words, the dominant bully did not push the passive child off the swing due to the passive child’s skin color, religion, sexual persuasion, or other such trivial matters. The bully aggressively occupied  the swing because: 1) he/she wanted the swing, and 2) because he/she could take the swing. Thus, in dealing with such a situation, the caretakers/overseers would need to address these two basic issues in order to prevent such from happening again.

Although desires are natural, and the exercise of dominance over a weaker being is a temptation; at least each such aspect makes a certain level of misguided sense. The desire to have or to do something enjoyable is a basic human trait. The recognition of the ability of one party, and the limitations of another might compel a misguided mindset to rationalize that “since I can, then I may”. Therefore, a dominant bully merely needs to learn to control personal desires and to recognize the rights of other parties, regardless of his/her abilities or the limitations of the other. Once the strong learn self control and sensitivity to the desires of others, then the logical outcome is that although the dominant have the ability to invade the rights of the weak, then they will not act upon that ability; realizing that such would be wrong. These may be difficult concepts for a mere child to learn, but it is a process that is possible, practical, and feasible. Thus, the role that folk like my daughter exercise, although not a position to envy, nonetheless are necessary works to desirable ends: “To teach the children well” so to speak…

Teaching children to control their desires and to suppress their abilities in lieu of the rights of others is no doubt a struggle to itself. But consider if you will, the adult world, where a diversity of factors are involved beyond those of our playground years. Firstly, the “might makes right” scenario still does exist and is all too often exercised on a daily basis. In fact, our economic system of free markets are undeniably based upon such. Thus, we adults would do well to consider the lessons of playground etiquette with regards to our own actions, individually and collectively, towards each other. Secondly, consider the acquired traits which muddy our mental waters when it comes to self control and sensitivity. Prejudices and bigotry; sinful traits which are acquired by external influences in our lives, rather than inherited as a matter of human nature, are all too often the basis for the conflicts between adults.

Whereas the conflicts between children might seem petty and foolish; the truth is that we adults are the ones who truly have the market cornered for frivolous foolishness. Perhaps instead of we teaching the children well, we are in need that the children teach us well. Lessons from life on the playground just might go a long way towards stabilizing the social chaos of our contemporary world.

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