Back in 1988, Robert Fulghum came out with a slim book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It was a collection of this Unitarian minister’s observations gleaned throughout his life. But the book wasn’t a heady compost of sage advice based on decades of experience; rather, approaching the world through the eyes of a child.
I sneered and chuckled the first time I read that book. The sentimentality of his words oozed slowly like warm maple syrup spreading across a stack of homemade pancakes. I was amused by his attempt to boil this complex world down into a rivulet of simplistic solutions. Sure, it made for genial suggestions and would fit nicely into Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, but not the real world.
Here’s what Fulghum wrote:
All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at school. These are the things I learned:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don't hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don't take things that aren't yours.
- Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- 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 some.
- Take a nap every afternoon.
- When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
- 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.
- Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
- And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
I have since re-read Kindergarten a few times. And much, if not all of it, now kicks in as I approach nearly six decades of break-dancing across this fragile, blue orb of ours. Lessons learned as the calendar pages seem to flip more rapidly.
Broken relationships with family and friends? Hoarding a garbage bin of things and thoughts which continue to mount? Take the steps to repair the damage and empty the dumpster. Apologize, mean it, prove it and then move on. That’s all any of can do. And always try to summit the highest and most arduous peak of them all: Forgiveness.
Keep those hands clean. That’s how sniffles and other maladies spread around. This is important, too, when shaking hands to make a promise. And pull that handle on the john when done. Maybe twice. It often takes an extra shove to be rid of unwanted wastes we create in our lives.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good at times, as is toasty pizza and a chilled glass of white zinfandel. Just find a balance between the menus and venues. And it’s always good to catch a few “Zs” when you can. Cell phones and tablets need recharging on a regular basis and so do we.
Find joy and wonder not in technology, gadgets, gaming and the latest fancy do-da’s. Wonder why the hell one cloud mass looks like an elephant playing golf to your friend and you see it as Richard Nixon riding a surfboard at Malibu Beach?. Is this not part of the essence of Dick and Jane (and Sally) yelping Look!!!
Sadly, those clouds we look at change form, move on and disappear. More sadly, we do, too, eventually. But a life lived never evaporates in the hearts and minds of those we have engaged.
And the most important lesson – the one which seems to elude us so often – is to hold hands and stick together when heading out into the world. It can be noisy, calamitous and dangerous at times. But in the end, this little studio apartment in the universe is a fine home we share.
So ends my syrupy incantations. I am glad I have graduated to kindergarten. Thank you, Mr. Fulghum.