A number of years ago, author Robert Fulghum had a big-buzz best-seller: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. People just loved it!
Fulghum's "Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things" proclaimed: "Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand box at nursery school."
And here's some of what little Bobby learned that's evidently stayed with him for the rest of his life: 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. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday. Take a nap every afternoon; watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together....
All in all, good stuff to know. (Not sure about the cookies and milk part, but hey, too many years of brown rice did make Johnny a dull boy; perhaps he has a point.)
Frankly, though, what I presently value learning and knowing most are not those things I learned in kindergarten. And at 55 and more, one of the greatest joys of my life is that I am learning more now than ever before, and keep on learning.
This past Father's Day, my mom was in town. My son Johnny, age 17, cooked us dinner: fresh seared sashimi-in-the-middle ahi tuna with a pineapple-red pepper relish, served over an exotic salad of mixed organic greens, topped off with avocado tempura. Oh mama! (Something he clearly didn't learn in kindergarten.)
After dinner, we watched TV the rest of the night...--I'm kidding. That's one thing I learned in kindergarten that I have gratefully unlearned. Instead, at the hands (and head and heart) of my wife, Jekaterina the Great, we did a very Russian thing: we played a game. (Seems the Ruskies really enjoy learning--they actually do it for fun! At parties and celebrations, no less.)
Katyusha made up questions for each of us to answer. Printed them out as little scrolls and rolled them up, tied with string, diploma-like, and dropped them into a bowl from which we each selected one when our turn came.
"What's the first memory you have of the father?" ("The father," of course, meant me. Some Russian-to-English translations are not all that graceful; it was fun hearing myself referred to as "the father.")
Next: "What's the funniest moment that happened with you and 'the father'?"
Then this one: "What do you admire most about 'the father'?"
My mother spoke about my perseverance. "No matter what's happened to you, no matter how difficult," she said, "you're still in there, in here, swinging away."
I smiled when she said that and shared a favorite quote, which I'd placed at the beginning of my "vision statement":
My motto was to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging.
Then it was my son's turn. "Most of my friends' parents are about your age," he said, looking at me right in the eyes. "And it seems like they haven't learned a thing since they got out of college. Not you. You're always learning something--especially about yourself.
"You're a different person than you were a year ago," Johnny said. "The same, yeah, and different...and better."
"Better." Better even than tuna and tempura, that was. Had to take in a deep breath or three on that one.
Yeah, well...it's true, I thought. I do that. I say I can't help myself, and I guess it would be possible not to learn and develop and grow, but...
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, indeed. "Look," Dick told Jane; "see father learn new things."
So, what am I learning?
I'm learning that my being "user-friendly" matters a lot to other people--and works for me, too. (Thanks, Carol.)
I'm learning to be a father all over again (my daughter Eleonora Milena was born on May 2, 2002) and I'm much better the third time--and with 22 years of practice. (Thanks, Rachel and Johnny and Ele'.)
I'm learning that whenever I speak or read (or think about) a goal, affirmation or my vision, to tack onto the end the phrase, "...and please make this happen naturally and effortlessly for the highest good of all concerned." (Thanks, Stuart.)
I'm learning to be happily comfortable not knowing the answers, content with not being right, and that every single time I move beyond using my mind to judge anything or anyone as right or wrong, good or bad, I am truly creative, powerful and free. (Thanks, Kurt.)
I'm learning that getting answers doesn't cut it, and that having great questions is truly where it's at. (Thanks, again, Kurt.)
I am learning that the purpose of my life--and probably all our lives--is to learn to love and be loved. (Thanks, Katyusha.)
And I'm learning--amongst many, many other things--to accept and think and feel and BE The Greatest Networker in the World.
So, what are you learning? (I know you didn't do it all in kindergarten.)
JOHN MILTON FOGG is author of The Greatest Networker in the World.
You can check out what John is up to with coaching at: www.GreatestNetworker.com/is/jmf.