Ride On

The Sandbox


Quite a while ago I had an opportunity to host a group who shared unique recreational interests. We were discussing future development of some vacant property and quickly got into a brain-storming session talking about opportunities. As might be expected, all the ideas focused on the specific interests of the group. They envisioned different activities in different sections of the vacant property, but all were exclusive to their passion.

The discussion gained momentum as they agreed, “This area will be great for ‘X,’ and that area will be great for ‘Y,’ allocating the entire space.” That momentum came to an unpleasant stop when I mentioned an area that a different group thought would be great for their interests. “Aww, they already have enough space. This should be for us.” To a large extent, they were right.

What surprised me was how jarring it was to have to consider others and their opinions and desires.

I think of that meeting when I hear or watch school board meetings. Whether the discussion is books, masks, vaccinations or equal treatment of others, we all have beliefs and opinions. Many of us want the local school board to act on them.

Some activists who gained their “knowledge” through the internet or social media push for “parent-guided” curriculum. Does anybody really want “parent-guided,” or do they simply want “me” guided? There’s a strong probability there are parents on the other side of our pet issues. Would we be OK allowing “them” to guide what and how our kids are taught? If not, why are we OK pushing professional educators and administrators to succumb to our cause of the day?

It’s understandable, even admirable, to want to advocate for our passions. Unfortunately, it seems to be increasingly less likely we’re going to try to respect, consider and learn from those who may have different passions or beliefs. Every topic, every issue, every belief becomes a zero sum game where we push to get our way 100% without leaving a scrap for our “adversary,” who may be our neighbor or friend. If we don’t achieve that goal, even if there’s a mutually beneficial compromise, we feel cheated, wronged or victimized.

We then feel compelled to lash out on social media (or a school board meeting) about how unfairly we’ve been treated and demand change. We may find sympathetic ears in the echo chamber of those who share our opinions, right or wrong. We hope to be artificially deputized as experts on issues we may know very little about, at times contradicting those who are the experts and all those who feel differently on the subject.

At some point we became so locked into our beliefs that we don’t even consider others. I may not have been paying enough attention in the past, but it sure feels like a fairly recent phenomenon. I fear we’ve abandoned practicing cooperation in favor of vilifying or alienating those who don’t fully agree with us. Again, these “others” may be our neighbors, friends, or even family.

Much like available land, time for teaching our children is precious. As a society we could choose to make it inclusive or try to lock out input that challenges or improves our opinions. We can close our minds to the ideas and needs of others, but I’m not sure any of us will find more joy in that compromised, isolated experience.

I’m pretty sure kids don’t like to play alone, have limits put on their toys, or be told how to play. I’ll continue to hope we can relearn how to play nice in the sandbox. I believe our lives and the lives of our children would be better.

Mark Michel is a recently retired commercial airline pilot and Key Pen Parks commissioner. He lives in Lakebay.