Indeed, individualism is on the rise in contemporary America, and I would argue that it is the individualists who continue to promote the focuses on limited government and on reducing federal investment in the public sphere which characterized this earlier, harsher America. What we lose in becoming individualistic is our sense of community. Making social and ethical choices in support of others who are less fortunate requires sacrifice and selflessness. In a time when we, as Americans, are too quick to forego humanity for brutality, I recall Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It is re-printed below, in case you forgot the things we learned:
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life -
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
I wonder about the purposes of education and about how we might replace violent rhetoric in the media with an emphasis on the need for returning to the simplicity of childhood, a period of time in our lives during which our education focuses largely on cultivating a sense of community and mutual respect. I reconsider my last blog entry regarding the cheat sheet Drew Houston created for 22-year-olds, wherein he describes a circle which represents you as the average of the five people who surround you¾so pick your friends wisely.
Alexander Hamilton’s best friends were his wife, his sister-in-law, his father-in-law, and George Washington. He had formidable enemies, too: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr, and the entire leadership of the Southern colonies. The closing number of the new Broadway musical bearing his name is entitled, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Three of those famous men recalled after his death how indebted the emerging nation should feel to Hamilton and his financial and organizational genius; ironically, then, his enemies told his story much better than anyone else.
How would the enemies of today tell each other’s stories? Who will tell yours? Will they be both the friends in your circle and your enemies? Will their stories be positive, negative, or will they cancel one another out? Can we rediscover our sense of community, and can we again build a community of mutual respect in which even our enemies can be selfless enough to recognize our merits once our time has passed?
Best wishes in finding a good eulogist, but in the meantime, in life, be sure to remember that poem.