I remember, perhaps incorrectly, that I had a lot of rules in the house when I was growing up. Don’t do this, do do that, don’t forget the other. I’m not a huge fan of detailed lists of rules, mostly because they are tedious and there is something lost in the minutia of “the rule doesn’t specifically say not to do that, so I’m not subject to punishment if I do” nonsense. This is the realm of politics, and I’m not setting my five-year-old up to find the gray area/arguable point in every situation.
Now, I understand that kids are going to get in trouble. They’re going to forget; they’re going to think that we won’t find out; they’re going to just plain make bad choices (hell, some of us continue to make really bad choices well into our adult lives — looking in the mirror here). But, we didn’t want to overwhelm the boy with lots of rules. I think that the Murse and I have come up with three simple ones that are pretty fail-proof. They’re rules everyone should follow.
1. Be nice. This is probably the biggest one, as it encompasses the others. For Archoo, this means sharing toys or snacks, not throwing coins at kids in his classroom (Sorry, Aden.), respecting the personal space of others, saying please and thank you, and other small things that show his awareness and kindness for others.
In today’s world, it’s interesting to see grown men and women making excuses not to be nice to others, but I don’t intend to raise my children to be oblivious to the needs of others or, worse, too selfish to realize that they aren’t the center of a universe. No matter which extreme view of “me me me, my accomplishments, my money, my things, my way” you ascribe to, it’s a sad reality. If you’ve had to step on someone to get a leg up, you have failed at being nice. You’ve failed at showing empathy. You’ve failed at basic humanity. If you’re reading into this paragraph as a political statement, it applies there as well as everywhere else. The fact of the matter is that the universe does not care for you. You are an infinitesimal speck on a miniscule planet in a single solar system among thousands. No matter what you accomplish, history is likely to forget you ever existed. Your personal accomplishments may be looked at as the success of your company, your city, your country . . . but probably not your family or you. The best you can hope for is the acceptance of the humans currently around you. To receive such, you must give it. To give it, you must truly respect others; and to do that, you can’t look at them as obstacles or hindrances. You have to see them first as people. You don’t have to agree with what someone else does, believes or says, and you don’t have to go out of your way to be generous if you don’t feel like it. But to show basic courtesy . . . to just be nice to someone . . . isn’t hard. It doesn’t cost you anything. Everyone should be willing to do it.
2. Pay attention. Well, it’s nice to pay attention — considerate of others around you and all that. It also prevents a lot of damage. Archoo needs to pay attention to small things, like where he’s walking or whether or not the Murse is sleeping while both kids are running screaming through the house at two in the afternoon. Archoo has to pay attention to instructions in school and to Mommy, Daddy, and the Murse when they speak to him.
As adults, we have to pay attention to many more things. We have to watch the road while we’re driving; we have to pay attention to our spending so that we don’t overdraw accounts; we have to pay attention to warning signs for disease processes, and more. It’s astounding how little people pay attention to other, very important, things, though. This morning, I read an article about how woefully uninformed the American people are about Obamacare, a current hot-button issue that everyone seems to have an extremely strong opinion about. Politics in general are something that people don’t pay attention to, despite the fact that politics shape the country. And forget about the global political arena — most people don’t know what’s happening in their own back yards, let alone what’s happening on the other side of the globe. But, again, I would urge people to pay more attention. We are all on this little blue marble together, and while you might not believe that what happens to one of us happens to all of us, I would firmly disagree with that assessment. You’re not an island, and neither is whatever country you live in. Pay attention to the world around you, and you will learn a great deal about others and yourself.
3. Don’t destroy things. Archoo has this rule because he has a penchant for chaos. He was angry at me one day and decided to get back by taking scissors to both my shoe laces and the custom wide-slat venetian blinds in the living room. He draws on his school desk, peels paint off the walls, pulls loose strings on nearly everything and tears things apart for the fun of it. This rule’s purpose is simply to deter these actions.
Truly, if you’re paying attention, and if you’re asking yourself if what you’re doing is nice, you probably won’t destroy too many things. Adults can fairly easily destroy property like a child, but they also have the potential to destroy other things. Relationships come to mind — I have destroyed several of those myself, and have taken others nearly to the breaking point. But what else am I destroying? Am I destroying American small business when I shop at a big box store? Are my clothing or shoe shopping choices damning a minor in a third-world country to work in a sweat shop? Am I responsible, in any way, for the destruction of the planet itself? I can easily say that yes. I am responsible, and no, I’m not proud. On some level, I have a choice, but on the other, principles don’t feed, shelter, or clothe my children. I am not independently wealthy, and I’m not likely to ever become independently wealthy because I’m not interested in sacrificing being nice to further my own ambition. I will not step on your shoulders to get to the next rung; I’m more the type to stoop down so that you can put your foot in my cradled hands. So by this very token of niceness, my resources are limited. I can’t go to 10,000 Villages for a rug; I can’t afford it. I can afford the cheap one that they sell on Overstock.
I can’t donate to your billion charity runs and fundraisers — I have my own sick child with medical issues that I have to fund. Do I want to help? Absolutely. Can I? Not this month. Not next month. Maybe not for several months. I’m like so many just trying to scrape by to the next paycheck. I need my cheap food, my cheap clothes, and cheap everything else just to make it by. I’m in school so that perhaps I can make a more comfortable margin, but I’m spending money I don’t have to get there. (Fodder for another blog post, for sure) I am not suggesting that there’s an easy fix, but I am saying that pretending that we’re not a part of a global community is the definition of selfish — and not at all nice. Not at all paying attention. Acknowledging your role is a step in the right direction. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you’re a CEO that’s raking in dividends at the expense of your workers’ pay rates. Maybe you’re a drug dealer that’s putting illegal substances into the hands of children. Maybe you’re completely different than any of those things — but you’re still a person. You’re a member of the global human ecosystem, and your actions effect everyone else in it.
I think if we take these three simple rules to heart as a collective human race, though, there could be incredible progress. Just . . . unthinkable amounts of it. Be nice. Pay attention. Don’t destroy things.