- By: Candace McKibben
I have been thinking about the excellent essay that Episcopal priest, Robert Fulghum, wrote in 1986. It started as a reflection on life that became not only a book but a series of books about how to live life with meaning and joy. The essay titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” begins with a brief introduction, offers 16 suggestions and some closing remarks about how the world would be a better place if we adhered to these suggestions, not just personally but globally. His final recommendation is, “No matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
In the divisive world in which we now live, his advice sounds quaint. “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” And yet it is profoundly true that holding hands and sticking together, being kind, avoiding violence, being willing to admit when you are wrong and saying I am sorry, are values that endure and make life better for us all. As Fulghum wrote, the greatest wisdom about life is not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school.
Lately we have been awash in troubling issues that violate this sandbox wisdom. We have been exposed to the violation and hurt of people from a number of fronts because they were not treated with dignity, not dealt with fairly, not offered apology or valued in ways that honored their personhood.
In the past year we have seen the scab pulled off the wound of race relations and realized that the healing had not gone much below the surface. How sad these fifty years later to see sanitation workers in Memphis still carrying signs that say, “I am a man.” We have heard the voices of women who have been long-silenced regarding sexual-harassment and abuse. Hush money and dismissive talk adds insult to their injury. We have felt the anger and frustration of a generation of young people across the nation which has known school shootings since they were in kindergarten. Discounting the maturity and intent of ones exposed to so much so soon, hurts. In these and other ways, many of us have felt anxiety and concern about how to get back to the wisdom of the sandbox; how to hold hands and stick together in this world.
I recently became aware of the Civil Conversations Project that seeks to renew common life in a fractured and tender world. One of the resources of the project, “Better Conversations, A Starter Guide,” was added to the “On Being” website on February 9, 2018. In it, author Krista Tippett offers a collection of resources for planting new conversations in families and communities. She encourages us to think about the words we use to convey our experience and truth. She invites us to listen, not by merely being quiet while someone else speaks, but by letting go of assumptions, taking in ambiguity, and being curious. She speaks of adventurous civility that honors the difficulty of what we face, but believes in connection above our differences. The eight page pdf is a resource for creating new spaces for listening, conversation, and engagement with a goal, not to convince others of our position, but to truly hear each other. Designed for use by groups in many settings, it is but one way we can get back to the wisdom of the sandbox.
Years ago, I read a book by a physician responding to the frustration of many people supporting someone in the process of dying. Titled, “I Don’t Know What to Say,” by Dr. Robert Buckman, its wisdom goes beyond communication around death and dying to communication with anyone we care about. I have used his principles with couples in premarital counseling. What I find most helpful about the book is his definition of communication. To communicate is to “understand the other as best you can.”
As we face all that would divide us, I wonder if we can find the grace to consider the words we use, listen with curiosity, and practice adventurous civility as we seek to understand the other as best we can. If so, we just might be able to hold hands and stick together in our complex world.