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All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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A few weeks ago my bride and I started doing some post holiday clean out. I came across an old paperback copy of one of my favorite books “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” by Robert Fulghum. This book was published in 1986. The year I graduated from high school. The year I started college. 1986 was a glorious year, for sure.

I decided to reread this book to see if the yellowing pages had the same impact on me after some 30 plus years stuffed in a box.

The book is comprised of short stories. The kind of stories that make us feel good. The kind that make us think about everyday happenings. The kind that make us slow down, and savor life for a minute. Old school stuff, for sure.

The Rules
You see this book is really about a set of rules. Rules of living decently with other human beings. Rules that were relevant to adults (and kindergarteners) in 1986. But who knew that we would need these rules even more today. A lot more. Rules like “play fair” and “say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” Basic things that we all learned, even before we could even write our own name with a broken Magenta crayon.

  • Before you realized that nobody wants the white crayon or the white jelly beans.
  • Before you realized that a “smock” was really just your dad’s old dress shirt.
  • Before you questioned if you could sing or dance (of course you can. Everybody can sing and dance).

But somewhere along the way we’ve lost these rules. Rules of common decency.

  • Share everything.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.

It seems as if the more our world speeds up, the less we remember these rules. As if the speed of life negates the need to share and say you’re sorry when you mess up. As if we’ve earned the right not to put things back where we found them.

We work crazy hard. Then we go home to bury our face in our phone as we half-watch another episode of The Voice for the third night in a row. We forget what it felt like to see the world afresh. To sing and dance like nobody’s watching. To draw and paint without judgement. To listen to stories with child-like curiosity. Back when we were full of optimism and an unwavering sense of adventure. When every day was new. When every day was exciting. We couldn’t wait to go home. And we couldn’t wait to come back tomorrow.

  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.

How I long for that unbridled excitement. I long for that unadulterated wonder at the world around us. That unmistakable wonder of a child. Long before the world begins to temper our expectations. When our emotions were lifted beyond the heavens by the smell of a brand-new box of Crayola 64’s with the built in sharpener.

I can still vividly remember the much-anticipated field trip to Mathis Dairy Farm. It was the highlight of the year. And I got chosen to actually milk the cow, Rosebud. I can still smell that nasty heifer. I can still feel that warm udder in my hands. And hear the squirt of milk hitting the metal pail. Before we left they gave us cold, chocolate milk in glass bottles with straws. It was heaven.

Can you imagine if we had heeded just some of the advice? Like the advice to clean up our own messes. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to contemplate a garbage dump the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. Or argue about whether we could eat Rosebud for dinner. Or drink from a single-use, plastic straw. Or whether we are all gonna drown in exactly 12.3 years. How silly all that might seem to us.

  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life — learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day.

Isn’t it true that life is still pretty simple at its core? That cookies and milk can solve a lot of problems? Personally I like a warm Snickerdoodle and some cold 2%. That might be my my last meal on Death Row. See, life is pretty simple. At least until we overcomplicate it.

As Fulghum expresses in the book, “The examined life is no picnic.” And, the speed of information isn’t helping us these days. It’s like a double shot of espresso for the overactive mind. Personally, I like things a bit slower. Like when we had three channels on the TV and our home had one telephone for five people to share. And our milk got delivered to the door. And my Dad could let me sit on his lap to hold the steering wheel at 60mph so he could get his beer open without spilling in on himself. Without seat belts, of course. You wanna be thrown clear of the wreck.

  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • Play nice.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Don’t you think the world would be a better place if every meeting ended with warm cookies and milk? And people actually shared their cookies. And then snuggled up on a mat with their blankie and took a long nap. Imagine making Republicans and Democrats follow this protocol.

Imagine what the country might accomplish if we feared life and death, and pain and sorrow like a child. And we cherished love and joy and friendship like the rare commodities they truly are. And we never lost that sense of wonder. Sir Thomas Carlyle once wrote, “Wonder is the basis of worship.”

Don’t you think we’d approach the world differently if we saw every world problem through the universal filter of childlike wonder and innocence? Me too. We might, in fact, honor the life and death of a homeless man in Santa Monica. A man who died the same day as Kobe Bryant. Yet people pour out their hearts over Kobe Bryant as if they’ve lost a lifelong friend. Both are total strangers to us. Both of their lives had equal value.

Childlike wonder is an antidote. An antidote for everything. But especially an antidote for our hyper-individualistic way of life. A COVID-19-pandemic society becoming almost totally devoid of social, emotional or physical contact. An antidote of love and cookies and milk. An antidote of sharing and nonviolence and naps.

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. And just imagine if we actually learned the lesson that was intended with the little styrofoam cup. That little seedling. Peeking its little green head above the soil.

  • That life is fleeting.
  • That life is precious.

And just as the seedling dies, we too shall perish in due time. And that we shouldn’t waste it. Not a minute of it. For just like the seedling (and Kobe Bryant), nobody knows when their time will come. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

The Death of Wonder
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned (the biggest word of all)  LOOK. Today, we are in a hurry to be in a hurry. We rely on apps like Waze to help us hurry faster. Our heads down. And as we look down, the entire world passes us by. Imagine the simple things that we miss. A beautiful sunset or a full moon.

Just imagine life in another 10 years. When driverless cars will whisk us to and fro. We won’t even bother to look out the window at the world. Too engrossed in our own myopic lives. No need to look around to see where we are. Looking around will become the historical equivalent of watering your horses.

So let’s all agree that we’re gonna take one giant step backwards. And we are going to start treating one another like we are in kindergarten again. And, we’re gonna slow down and look for the wonder in the world that is right in front of us. Who knows, maybe we’ll start a national movement of cookies and milk at 3 p.m. Count me in.

Photo credit: ChiccoDodiFC/Getty Images

Originally published: January 11, 2021
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