Playground Rules

December 15, 2016

It is not often I get upset over something trivial.  During this past week I got very irritated at work because someone had done something to a piece of equipment I “donated” for everyone to use in our “gym” area.  They did not break it or do something that could not be undone,  However, I was irritated because it was obvious that the person who did it was inexperienced in using that piece of equipment, and left what they had done in place rather than removing it and put it back in its proper state.  In retrospect, a big part of my frustration was that the room and the space itself is not treated with respect.  When I discussed the incident with others, every person told me that in the Navy, you learn very quickly that anything in a public space is considered “fair game”.

This is not just a Navy sentiment.  We have all experienced it in the workplace, at the gym, public restrooms, other public spaces, etc… And yet, we all seem to accept it or take a laissez faire attitude when we see that something has been mistreated or disrespected in a public space.  What I realized later that evening, is that my irritation was a result of the violation of a basic “golden rule”, core principles that we learned in childhood.

Can you recall what they are? 

  1. Share and respect the stuff that is not yours, and put it back when you are done.
  2. Treat others like how you want to be treated. [Be kind. Don’t be mean.]
  3. Play together and take care of each other.

I remember as a child when I was playing with someone else’s toys, my parents told me, that I had to treat other people’s stuff even better than I do my own.  We shouldn’t return something that is broken or in worse condition than when we got it.  So, when did we determine during our lifecourse that these basic principles or golden rules, taught to us by our first social institutions- the family and grade school – no longer apply to us in adulthood?  We no longer need reminded of them, let alone follow them. I don’t see anything at all in public or work spaces that articulate these kind of rules or principles like we did in the classrooms or on playgrounds. Perhaps we should.

In fact, I would argue that these principles are just as important, if not more so, to adults because it addresses how we should act during our interaction with others.  Although my initial reaction was anger, I know I needed to ask myself “What exactly was I really angry about?” and more importantly, step back and do some self-reflection:

“Have I violated any of these principles this week?”

I realized I had, and therefore, my anger toward the unknown person who had done what they did to my equipment began to dissipate.

As adults, we sometimes need to return to the basic fundamentals as we interact with others everyday.  Many organizations have their own [company] principles and they may have them posted somewhere in their building as reminders and as a reflection of what we stand for.  Perhaps we should incorporate these fundamental playground rules alongside our organization’s principles and in our shared spaces simply as reminders of how we should treat each other and the property that we share.  I’d like to think that posting signs as reminders is all it would take to for us to treat each other and shared property with respect and kindness; however, we know the contrary.  What is more important is to ensure we begin holding each other accountable for the proper change in behavior or the lack thereof.  I challenge you to return to the fundamental rules of engagement that you learned in your childhood.  Be conscious of them and master of them for the next few weeks in your everyday interactions.  Just imagine how much better we can become as a teammate and as a team.

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