We could use a hearty dose of Robert Fulghum wisdom about now.
Our political discourse is at a fever pitch. Our allegedly esteemed elected leaders are carrying on like unruly children – shouting and pouting and becoming increasingly strident with their political opponents.
If they wish to carry on like children, they need to learn some kindergarten wisdom.
“All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten,” wrote Fulghum in his famous 1988 essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”
“Share everything,” he writes.
Too few of us realize it, but we share many things. Most of all, we share a magnificent representative republic – and every one of us shares the incredible responsibility of running it by voting and participating in public discourse.
Our politicians must embrace our shared responsibility by discussing and debating political ideas civilly – by working out political agreements as well-mannered adults.
“Play fair,” writes Fulghum.
In sports, nobody likes a “dirty” player – someone who hits below the belt, or someone who tries to knock the quarterback out of the game by ramming a helmet into his knee.
Attempts to destroy or discredit political opponents with hyperbole and unsubstantiated accusations only lather up half the country as they alienate the other half. Such cynical dishonesty drives us apart, making it that much harder for us to arrive at orderly, sensible solutions.
If you disagree with someone’s political ideas, discuss that disagreement in a logical and unemotional manner. If you believe your idea is superior, make your case. That’s the only way for our best political ideas to become effective government policies, and goodness knows we have too few of those.
“Don’t hit people” is another of Fulghum’s insights.
Unfounded cheap shots have got to stop.
Calling someone a “racist” or a “Nazi” just because you dislike him or her or disagree with his or her ideas does more to discredit those overused labels than it does to discredit your target.
Chanting for a member of Congress – a naturalized U.S. citizen – to be “sent back” to the country where she was born, just because you strongly disagree with her ideas, lowers and discredits you as it elevates the target of your chant.
We are better than this – at least I hope we are.
Fulghum offers a dozen other useful insights in his essay, but these words are probably the most important:
“Live a balanced life,” he writes. “Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”
Look, politics is important – keeping informed and participating in our political system is essential to our country’s continued success – but too many of us are taking our politics way too personally.
As we become ever more boisterous in our discourse – as we post ever-more angry and ridiculous thoughts on social media – we motivate the politicians who represent us to do likewise.
All of us need to stop taking ourselves so seriously. All of us need to escape the narrowness of our limited point of view.
As Fulghum advises, we need to spend more time drawing and painting and singing and dancing. We need to play and laugh and stop taking ourselves, and our politics, so seriously.
Perhaps if we heed a little kindergarten wisdom, we will remember how to be civil, well-mannered adults.
With any luck, our politicians will follow suit.
–Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood,” a humorous memoir, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.