No, this isn’t some arrested development yearning for a lost childhood, nor is this one of those nostalgia trips where people idolize the past through rose tinted glasses. To be clear, I don’t want to be five years old again. I just wish we lived in a world where the rules of kindergarten still reigned supreme. In 1988, Robert Fulghum published a series of short essays under the title, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, and while I’ve never read the book, I get what he’s trying to say. Think about it. What were we taught in kindergarten? Share everything. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Very important. In the wake of the horrific events of the past week, I can’t help but think about another lesson that my kindergarten teacher taught me: Get along with everyone.
To this day, I can picture the one kid in my kindergarten class that I truly did not like, but for the life of me I can’t remember his name. What I do remember is that the feeling was mutual, and we would go out of our way to avoid having to play with each other. However, every now and then, my teacher would force the two of us to work together, and if either of us complained, we were simply told that we would have to find a way to get along. We weren’t being forced to be friends; we weren’t even being told that we had to like each other. We simply had to share the same space and get along. What a powerful concept.
A couple of months ago I moved to Paris for a year abroad, and after ringing in the new year at a party that was clear across town from my apartment, I opted to crash at a friend’s place for the night. The next morning, we celebrated New Year’s Day with a three hour conversation over breakfast, and as this friend is French, I used this time to pick her brain about some of the more quirky aspects of living in Paris. In particular, I was confused about why a movie theatre wouldn’t let me use my credit card to pay for a movie pass, and instead had asked for my bank account details. What started out as an explanation of French banking practices eventually evolved into a fascinating discussion about the differences in culture, attitudes, and customs between France/Europe and Canada/North America. Three hours later, not only did I feel closer to my friend, but I felt like I had really learned something about this country that I now call home, and as I sat on the Metro heading back to my apartment later that day, I wondered if any of the problems that currently plague our world could be solved if people were just willing to sit down and talk to each other and really make an effort to understand their differences. I guess you could say I was feeling optimistic about the new year.
A week later, I was frantically texting that very same friend as soon as I heard about the shooting at Charlie Hebdo because I mistakenly thought she worked in the area, and when she answered that she was indeed all right, I’ve never been more relieved to receive a text message in my life. Two days later, it was her turn to text me when one of the hostage situations broke out in my neighbourhood, and two days ago, we marched together in the largest rally in France’s history to show our support for free speech and our resilience in the face of terrorism. Officials estimate that the crowd in Paris could have been as big as 3 million people, and the sense of solidarity and unity among those 3 million people of all races and religions was something that I had almost given up hope was even possible. It was a wonderful moment in history, and as I headed home, I was hopeful that things really could change for the better. Hopeful, that is, until I got home and read about the massacre in Nigeria of 2,000 people by Boko Haram. That’s when I decided I wanted to go back to kindergarten.
If you look back throughout the course of our history, it would seem that we humans have always been in conflict with one another. We have waged wars over territory, resources, and ideologies, and it is heartbreaking to think about where we could be as a race if we would just stop thinking up new ways to kill each other. So the way I see it, we currently have two choices. We can either throw up our hands and concede defeat to the status quo, or we can stand up together and decide that we can be better than this. We can go back to that magical time when we all got along because our kindergarten teachers were wise enough to know that that was the only way we were going to get anything done. We don’t have to agree on everything, we don’t all have to be friends, and at the end of the day, we don’t even have to like each other, but this world is our classroom, and at the very least, we have to find a way to get along.