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Weeds: Kids can teach us how to get along

“Can’t we all get along?” We human beings have been trying to answer that question for about 10,000 years now.

I can turn on the news any time and see adults not getting along and become depressed. But a few days spent at playgrounds with young kids getting along lifted my spirit.

“Can’t we all get along?” You might recognize that quote from Rodney King. Thirty years ago, King, a Black man, was severely beaten by four White Los Angeles policemen. That was caught on film by an amateur photographer, presaging an era when everyone is a photographer and bad behavior is regularly recorded.

An all-white jury found the LAPD officers innocent of assault, which seemed to deny what millions of us saw with our eyes. Protests broke out, which turned into rioting. In the midst of that, King went on television to appeal for calm. “People, I just want to say, can’t we all get along? Can’t we all get along?” That struck me as a beautiful, simple, and courageous moment.

I keep Things To Write About in my head. I had an idea to write about the possibility that we could get along, that we could be kind and decent as the natural thing we do. What if we could lift each other up, support and encourage each other? I don’t mean just the people who look like us. That’s easy. I was thinking about being kind and decent to everyone, including the not-so-easy ones.

Is it crazy to think we could all be better off by cooperating and aiding others when needed? What if that was natural, like eating and sleeping? Why couldn’t a society and economy be built on mutual consideration?

I am a Christian. In Leviticus, we read, “Do not bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Jesus instructs that and loving God are the greatest commandments. Paul tells us “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Christians should be leading by example. It’s right there in our fundamental teaching. Unfortunately, we can come up with examples of Christians leading in intolerance and bigotry. Leviticus, Jesus, and Paul seem clear. Love is the greatest commandment. Love is a strong word. Not just tolerate, not just accept, but love. At the risk of sounding flip, what part of love don’t you understand?

I know, some of you are thinking, “I have to hate the sin and love the sinner.” Why are we a lot better at the former than the latter?

I’d ask why can’t we have a world where love wins out? I was going to point out all the ways we can better our own lives by bettering others’ lives. It’s a cliché, but there is truth in “We all do better when we all do better.”

I had that column in mind. But I decided it sounded naïve, sort of childish, and not especially useful. So I said to myself, “Naaaah.”

Then I spent a week at playgrounds. Our five-year old grandson Levi was here for Grandpa and Grandma Camp. It’s been 20 years since I hung out with a five-year old. I was reminded kids are a lot of work. I said that to a young mom who vociferously shook her head up and down in agreement.

I anticipated I wasn’t going to get much done on the farm. Levi is the perfect age to go to playgrounds with the occasional stop for a Dairy Queen. There are at least 20 parks around plus a pool in Sleepy Eye and wading pools in New Ulm. You’ve heard of a Pub Crawl? This was a Playground Crawl.

It was a nice weather week, and there were kids everywhere we went. Parents, grandparents, and daycare providers know winter is coming, so getting the kids outside now is imperative. Plus, you don’t have to spend ten minutes dressing them.

When Levi was younger, a playground visit meant Grandpa pushing him on the swing and being a monster chasing him. That’s still true if we are alone. But now if there are other kids, they run to each other to begin playing together. That’s all right; I got time to sit on a park bench and read.

What I was seeing was the important socialization of children older than toddlers with adolescence still off in the future. It’s a necessary stage of development as the child’s world is growing outward from the parents who nurtured him. Levi’s world is expanding. The same is true for the other kids he was running with and climbing with and pretending with.

When he was off with one of his new friends, I couldn’t hear everything they were saying. Sometimes I could hear “You be this” or “I’ll be that” or “You go there” or “I’ll go here.” It took no time at all for them to create a pretend world. Four, five, six-year-olds play hard. It’s almost like they know the summer is short. The same is true for the season of childhood.

I had forgotten how children this age generally get along. It’s good to have an adult nearby to referee the occasional dispute over a toy or sooth a hurt elbow. But the great majority of time Levi and his playmates did fine. I noticed they had an innate sense of fairness. Taking turns and sharing were common. Some of that was taught by parents, but some of it seems in them.

Over the week, Levi played with whatever kid was there to play with. Skin color, hair, ethnicity didn’t matter, so long as they were three to four feet tall. Later I would ask Levi the name of that kid he was playing with. Usually, he didn’t know. Being another kid was all that mattered. One time he was playing with a young black girl, and Levi certainly wasn’t aware of her status in the census.

Having raised three kids, I know about the bullying and petty behavior that children can display, especially as they become teenagers. But at least for one week on Brown County playgrounds, I saw a lot more getting along than not. It was enough to bring that column back that I decided not to write.

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