“How was school today?” I asked as we started dinner.
“Not good.” said 5-year old Bailey, who looked sad to be thinking about it again.
“We had Show and Tell.”
“Oh yeah! Did you bring in the stuffed animal you were talking about?” She loved that thing; a long, bloated nylon sock full of white fluffy stuff, with a pair of googly eyes glued on to its marker-drawn face. That was Benny. She made it herself and was proud of it.
“Yeah.” she whimpered. Now the tears were coming.
“What happened?” I asked again.
“Nobody came to see me so I didn’t get to share with anyone.” Tears were in full flow by now.
“Nobody came? Not even your friends?”
“No. They said they would come over but then when we started Show & Tell, they didn’t come.”
“Did they all go to other friends instead?”
Sensing that I didn’t have the whole story, I kept digging. “If they didn’t come to see you, and they didn’t go to see other friends, what did they do? Just stand there?” I wondered.
“Wait a minute- are you saying that the whole class just stood there, waiting for others to come and see them, but nobody left their booth to go visit somebody else?”
“Yeah.” she said, now unable to eat due to the crying.
Things were starting to make sense so I pressed on.
“Didn’t the teacher do anything about it?”
“Not for a while. She kept telling us we had to have some show-ers and some tell-ers, but nobody moved.”
“Did she stop Show & Tell ’cause it wasn’t working?”
“No. She waited, then she divided us up into to groups. One group was the show-ers, the other was the tell-ers. The show-ers visited, then we switched jobs.”
“Oh- so it was good then after a bad start?”
“Yeah.” She was still crying a little.
“Did people like Benny?”
“Yeah they thought he was really cute and nice”.
“Great! And did you see any cool things that other people brought?”
“Yeah- there was a lot of cool stuff!” Tears were done and happiness was returning.
“It sounds like Show & Tell was great once everybody figured out what to do.”
“Yeah! It was the best part of the day!”
“If it worked out so well, why were you so upset about the beginning?”
“I just didn’t like that part.” Ah yes- life with a kindergartener.
Anyone who works with kids has heard stories like this before. It’s tough to get the whole story from kids sometimes and they don’t always focus on the big picture or most important point.
Bailey and the kids in her class learned a lesson that day that we all need to re-learn as we try to make sense of the mess we’re in as a people.
In Bailey’s class, everybody wanted to talk, but nobody wanted to listen. The kids expected their classmates to come and listen to them, but the thought of giving up the chance to speak, in favor of listening to others, never crossed their minds until they were directed to do so by the teacher.
How many of us act like that in our daily lives? Especially when it comes to political conversations?
Stephen Covey, in his book “The 7 Habits of High Effective People”, lists this as Habit #5: Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.
Seek to understand the other first. That’s right- first. Then, after hearing where the other side is coming from, explain your position. Maybe it will have been altered based on what you heard. Maybe your position will become more entrenched instead. Either way, we need to do a better job of understanding each other and that begins with making an effort to do it.
This applies to government officials and news media. It applies to you and your buddies, talking politics and culture over a beer, or even arguing about who makes the best cheesesteak in town. It definitely applies to everyone who uses social media to attack, demonize, or make assumptions about others. It applies to me too.
And I’ll admit- it’s difficult. I’m struggling with it.
Culture and politics have split us into nearly unreconcilable camps. It’s at the point where, even if we do what Covey says, and employ the lessons of Bailey’s Show & Tell class, we are still unlikely to see eye to eye.
So why bother then?
Because there are 3 paths to take, and only one of them gets us anywhere good.
We continue on as we are, splitting further apart until we eventually end up in some type of physical civil or culture war (we may already be closer than we realize).
Same as option #1 except instead of full out, possibly physical conflict, we restrict the war to the field of government. One group takes power and dismantles the effects of the other, only to have the same done to them when they lose power. In the meantime, the general population continues its polarization. It’s an endless cycle with long-term benefits for nobody.
We learn to deal with each other and realize that we’re going nowhere and accomplishing nothing that lasts, until we can figure out how to work together. As tough as it may be and no matter how opposed we are to each other, this is the only acceptable course.
Bailey’s kindergarten Show & Tell activity was a disaster at first. Everybody felt bad, didn’t learn anything new from their classmates, and suspected everybody else of being selfish, mean and uncaring. When they made a conscious effort to understand each other, things greatly improved for all.
I don’t think it’s overly simplistic to think the same thing can happen to us as a society. The first part already has.
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