Saturday, April 02, 2016

All Grown Down

Someone once made the rather astute observation that most of life is really just a continuation of high school. The reference is usually to our social proclivities, but it applies to individual attributes as well. So many traits we developed in that period were carried forward in varying degrees as we matured. The tendency towards drama in decision making. A love of gossip about friends and foes alike. The desire to fit in, and the peer pressure that forces us to do so. Sure, we say we are now adults, and have outgrown that immature behavior. But if we're honest, when push comes to shove, what we really want to do is hang out with the cool kids.

Certainly if you were to apply this outlook to what's happening in the political sphere, it would only reinforce this point of view. It's not hard to see an analogue in the current campaigns to the election of the senior class president. There's the initial cull of candidate based on looks and popularity. The race to court friends to your side. The vilifying of those who disagree with you, followed by the 180 pivot once they are no longer a threat. And on it goes. To be fair, what we are seeing happens on both sides of the aisle. That said, people of all political outlooks would generally agree that this year the crop of individuals on the Republican side have taken this behavior to new heights (or lows depending on your point of view).

Still, I was struck by a line in an article in The New York Times dissecting the collapse of Marco Rubio. Titled "The End of Marco-mentum," it was written by the chief national correspondent for the newspaper's magazine, Mark Leibovich. An astute chronicler of political personalities, Leibovich wrote, "For all the thumb suckery that's been expended on the various ‘Why Trump, Why Now' analyses, the lessons of Rubio's failure might be just as instructive."

Did you catch that? "Thumb suckery." Maybe that high school comparison was too lofty. Come to think of it, maybe middle school as well. What Leibovich may have put his finger on, intentionally or otherwise, is that more and more life seems to imitate elementary school as opposed to any other epoch of our Wonder years. In fact, when you get right down to it, maybe the educational period most analogous to the way we live our lives these days is kindergarten.

In 1986, minister Robert Fulghum published a book of short essays called "All I All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." Its namesake poem listed the simple things we all are taught as little kids, with his admonition that it would do us all well to continue their practice as we grow older. 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. And on and on. It became a bestseller, and has been widely quoted, updated, reproduced, adapted and parodied.

Unfortunately, it's not hard to see some of the undesirable behaviors we demonstrated back then have taken root as well. The need for instant gratification. The whining when we don't get what we want. The attention span of a toddler. The intense focus on our own needs. The lack of empathy for others. The inability to see the long term. In the context of this year's political shenanigans, you also see the bullying, the making of promises that can't be kept, the inability to compromise, the name calling, the threats of "you better leave me alone or I will get you worse." And yes, when things don't go our way, the need to stick our fingers in our mouth and suck on them, hoping to calm ourselves down, and hoping even harder that the situation will magically change without us having to do anything about it.
No one knows how things will play out in this year's election season. But we can all lament how bad it is, and if we do nothing to change it, can't pretend to be surprised when it happens again. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That's often the initial approach of a 5-year-old as well. However, kids can, and do learn. Can we say the same?


Marc Wollin of Bedford thinks we all need to grow up again. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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