All We Really Need to Know?

young Nikki throwing crayon at cousin Frank2014 is a few weeks old and a great many of us are struggling with resolutions we made while wrapped up in December’s holiday glow. When we’re forced to deal with freezing temperatures, accompanied by merciless winds and punctuated by quick hits of warmth that encourage germs to incubate and insects to enter our homes–the bugs come inside!–we might be forgiven for failing to suppress our inner cranky pants.

Okay, I may be personalizing a little bit.

We don’t stop with aiming for svelte bodies or clean closets in the new year. Many of us resolve to live better lives, a grandly aspirational (if vague) promise to make. Who doesn’t want to live a better life? We need assistance, though, which is why the self-help industry remains so robust.  Books about fulfillment fly off the shelves or onto electronic devices. The Secret, which repackages a time-worn idea, is still popular although I find its message of empowerment both self-centered and insensitive. “Got problems?” the author seems to suggest. “Your bad; you’re not communicating clearly with the Universe.” The dictum appears to apply to the jobless, the homeless, victims of rape and genocide and those who suffer from life-threatening disease.

Not the betterment we might seek.

Fulghum's book coverAnother popular book, celebrated for its simple wisdom around the world since its  is Robert Fulgham’s   All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It’s hard to overstate the cultural significance this collection of essays, first published in 1988, has had. Think about how much the title and the concept have been parodied and plagiarized.  Fulgham’s original essay, which was the basis for the book was even read on the Senate floor (not recently, but still!)  The book has been translated into twenty-four languages and has sold and continues to sell in the millions.

All we need to know, apparently. Or is it?

A summary of the book’s salient points:

  • 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.
  • Flush.
  • 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 into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • 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.
  • When you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

I don’t wish to be cynical about a book that has meant so much to so many. It’s a fine idea to share (except when it comes to Facebook). Experiencing wonder is the key to a more joyful existence. Living a balanced life opens us up to wonder and keeps us sane, for the most part. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we cleaned up our own messes, practiced good hygiene, accepted the cycle of life and avoided taking things that didn’t belong to us?

But even allowing for some variation of the “cookies and milk” suggestion for the lactose-intolerant or the sugar-adverse, I still think the book misses a few opportunities.

I’d change “Don’t hit people” to “Don’t hurt people.” Bullying can take many forms and verbal nastiness has many faces and many outlets these days. Cyber-bullying, Twitter-shaming and text-trashing are just some of the offspring born of the most venal forms of the talk show format. “Don’t hurt people” might then encompass everything from verbal abuse to the most egregious examples of torture.

Fun with Dick and Jane book coverNot everyone will remember the Dick and Jane books but if we were to reintroduce them, I’d suggest we all LISTEN as well as LOOK. Empathy begins with consideration of what someone else might be experiencing. It requires we resist talking—or typing—regardless of context and for the sole purpose of making a point.

And why not ask kindergarteners–and by extension the rest of us–to THINK?

There are other nuggets of wisdom that weren’t shared with me in pre-school, like how to live with adversity. That’s not something toddlers generally need to worry about. But we might teach even kindergarteners to be on the lookout for others in pain. It goes back to teaching and practicing empathy.

Boiling life lessons down to a few simple rules is never a bad idea, but I’d venture to guess we all have modifications or additions we might offer.

I’d like to invite you to share those on this page: your homily, fable, wise saying, guidepost or mantra, funny or serious.

Look, I’ll take any help I can get.

About Nikki

Author of non-fiction books HOPE IN SMALL DOSES and BECAUSE I SAY SO as well as numerous published essays. Her new novel, THE FORMER ASSASSIN, is due out January 2018.
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12 Responses to All We Really Need to Know?

  1. Joan Bartl says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reminder AND the great Comments. I would add that it’s cool to remember that we all make a difference and it’s up to us what that Difference is. Also, I have an original copy of that Dick and Jane book from 1946!

  2. Drema says:

    Making yourself a priority isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.
    True love saves acknowledges a little hatred occasionally.
    Will it matter 5 years from now? If not, move on. If yes, slow and down and process it.
    Anger isn’t a bad emotion, it’s just in how it’s expressed that it can seem bad.

  3. Jeffrey Zarmoch says:

    Being sober now for 10 years, I’d like to add what I say to people when they ask , “How do you do it, you make it look so easy”, my answer is I never looked back.
    Thank you for asking us to think. Jeffrey

  4. Anne Born says:

    My only addition – a non political one – would be to accept the notion that you alone are capable of change. You can live your whole life wanting someone else to change, waiting for someone else to change, and it just never happens. It’s empowering to think that tomorrow doesn’t have to look like today.

    And I’m on Weight Watchers. Warm cookies are not all that good for me.

    Bravo to Greg’s #11 too.

  5. Denese Vlosky says:

    Related to “PlayFair:” Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter if “the man” isn’t, or your competitor isn’t; do it anyway.

  6. Greg Correll says:

    So: my homilies:
    1. When the moment arises, if your hands aren’t clean, find some clean gloves.
    2. Don’t try to fix it all, or perfectly, or completely, or too quickly. Prioritize.
    3. Don’t forget: you did not fix it all, or perfectly or completely. No one did. Tomorrow will be less disappointing when you remember no one is finished yet.
    4. Finish the book.
    5. Respect lag time.
    6. Hold it for a moment, inhale, feel, then let it go downstream.
    7. Remember just enough to avoid mental anxiety. Forget just enough to avoid mental exhaustion.
    8. If you do not protect, if you are not protected, leave that broken place. Even if you are twelve.
    9. Find love. Kiss everyone you love at least once with all your heart. Cheek is A-OK.
    10. Cheeky love is the best love. Let them annoy you some.
    11. If you see a child being harmed, step up.
    12. Finish the book.

  7. Greg Correll says:

    Good grief, you’re right. The subtleties of despotism and social justice are lost here. He assumes a lot.
    He emphasizes sociable over social ability. Not everyone we meet will have read his book. And perhaps he should include the teacher’s POV more. Not pretend these important ideas happen automatically. In the book he treats them like found objects. Great teachers don’t have all the answers, but they have nuanced and effective ones, and in simple language, too.
    “Play Fair” —and if a man in power does not play fair, and gets away with it? and how does that evolve naturally to protect the stranger, widow, and orphan??
    “Befriend and defend the new kid” — hey, this is easy. He needs a revised edition.

  8. Boanerges says:

    I don’t remember kindergarten, so I’ve got that going for me. Actually, that’s a good life lesson right there — forget the bad stuff.
    Also, I’m reading a book called “Dreaming of Jupiter”, about a guy named Ted Simon who, at age 69, set out again on a motorcycle to re-ride the epic four-year circumnavigation of the globe he made in the 1970s. He’s living proof that you’re never too old — another valuable life lesson — and that you can count on meeting and being embraced by peoples of all cultures and walks of life if only you have the right attitude. You’d be in sync with his observations.

  9. Denese Vlosky says:

    I have said, “people are more important than things,” for 30 years, due to living in a family-household where things get broken, even beloved family things. Related to this is, “don’t yell,” which really means, “don’t blame,” because some things are accidents, no matter how much our busy brains want to try to pin down cause and effect (and point fingers).

    With the advent of Facebook, where almost everyone has an opinion and where opinions hurt, I’ve also learned that, “people are more important than ideas.”

    Sharing is just as good on Facebook as in/on any other venue. The above rules apply there, too.

  10. Jason Giecek says:

    ~nodding~ Stupid bugs!! LEAVE ME ALONE WHILE I TRY TO SLEEP!! Spiders are icky!! 😀

    (I learned that before Kindergarten!! 😀 )

  11. Matt Paust says:

    Clever and wise, as usual, Nikki. As to nuggets, afraid I’m still working on the ones I should’ve mastered in kindergarten. I suppose I could add, “Never vote Republican even if it means a Democrat who leaves you cold is on the ballot.”

    • Nikki says:

      I promised a no-risk commenting section and here you are stirring up trouble as usual, Matt. I should have asked for life lessons that eschew politics or religion. 😉 (sly wink added because, darn it, you’re here!)

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