What They Didn’t Teach You In Kindergarten

Robert FulghumTwenty years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a bestselling book entitled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten. It was immensely popular and sat atop the New York Times Bestseller list through 1989 and 1990, which incidentally was my first year of undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin. I was given a copy of the book in the fall of ’89 by a friend who thought I would appreciate “simplicity in truth”, a concept that every freshman struggles with as they try to make sense of their journey into “the real world” (whatever that is).

Fulghum’s book attempted to call you back to a simpler time in your life, when the rules were straightforward and the lessons black and white, with no disturbing shades of gray clouding your vision and judgement. His point was that we’ve lost sight of these guiding principles and need to stay focused on what’s important. Some of his learnings include:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.

Fast forward two decades. All around us we hear tales of deception, misappropriation, lying, stealing and cheating. We see a lack of remorse, responsibility, empathy and accountability. More than anything, we wish someone – anyone – could fix everything so we could just go back to “normal”. We are alone, scared, desperate and angry, and we’re not sure when it’s going to get better.

Over the past week alone I’ve received over 500 emails from people who embody these feelings. Most appear to be folks who just tried to do their best with their lot, to advance themselves and their careers through the best means available, and to support their families and loved ones and play by the rules. And the overarching feeling conveyed by all was that if you played by the rules you would be rewarded. For most, this is not the case today.

And that’s what they didn’t teach you in kindergarten. No one explained that over time the rules would no longer apply. No one bothered to chronicle the billionaire Ponzi schemer, the lying CEO, the financial market gamblers, or the home loan sharks. No one warned you that employers are not your family but a business, that saving for retirement doesn’t guarantee a sustainable income, that a college degree won’t provide gainful employment.

But there was a terrific lesson that Robert Fulghum offered which does still hold true today:

“When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”

Someone I greatly admire once told me that “we are all alone, together”. I believe that to be true. But I also believe that we are rapidly approaching a time when self-interest and self-promotion are seen as the only way to get ahead. One could argue that this has always been the case, that no one can take care of you but you. And in today’s world, that’s pretty difficult to disagree with.

Be that as it may, here’s my request. Go out into the world. Hold hands. Stick together. We can get through this, but we really do need one another’s help. And while you’re doing that, provide us your own revised list of what we should have learned in kindergarten. Recess is over so back to work.

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L P O'Neil

I like the recommendations. I’ve lived by them for a long time. Am I being too literal — what’s with the holding hands? I don’t like to hold hands because, especially in traffic, it’s really hard to run yoked to someone else. Easier to get mowed down by the avenging angels. Side by side, but not holding hands unless we’re on the edge of the cliff. Maybe it’s a concept — we can stick together without holding hands.

Also, my memories of kindergarten are very strong. My take away:: dumb kids get more attention and hold up progress. Is that what the last 8 years were all about?

Mark Stelzner

Great comments as usual LP. 🙂 And yes, you are being too literal, although perhaps you could hold the hand of the “dumb kid” and drag them into traffic. Now I’m being too literal…. Take care, Mark

Allen Sheaprd

Great article.

While the rule “When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.” did not save people from the ponzi scheme it does work.

Even Forbes magazine has reported on the new CEO – “Chief Ethics Officers: Who Needs Them?” Turns out there is pay for good work. Source:http://www.forbes.com/2006/10/23/leadership-ethics-hp-lead-govern-cx_hc_1023ethics.html

Please keep these posts to guide us.

I’ve been using the same voice


Owen Nicholson

Seems to me I remember those guiding principles were taught to me by my parents… and reinforced in the first grade (my school didn’t have kindergarten). I wonder what is being taught in kindergarten these days…