You may have heard of a book, written by Robert Fulghum, called, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” While the book is both cleverly written and humorous, there are some serious truths beneath the cute exterior. Some of the things he talks about learning in kindergarten include:
Put things back where you found them
Clean up your own mess
Say you’re sorry if you hurt someone.
You might think the lessons above are rather obvious, but at their heart, these are profoundly important understandings. Of course we all learned them at a surface level in kindergarten, but no one told us why acting in these ways is so importantwe were never made to understand the values that are embedded within these behaviors.
What would be possible if, in kindergarten, instead of being told, “Nice little girls and boys share things with each other.” we were taught these behaviors by being asked questions such as, “Is sharing important to you?” “How does it feel when you share something with other people and they seem so happy?” or “Do you like it when people share things with you?”
Imagine what could happen if we were asked to look inside and recognize how these behaviors enrich our lives? How different would the world be if children were taught what was important about acting in these ways, and how their choices could positively affect their lives as well as everyone around them?
Unfortunately, in our society there is very little attempt to align cultural values embedded within these behaviors with our personal values. We are raised in a culture where these behaviors are taught to us using a system of punishment and reward. You either do it or you will be punished!
From a very young age we are trained to focus our attention on figuring out who is good, who is bad, who is right, who is wrong, and what is appropriate, or inappropriate behavior. “If you don’t say you’re sorry, you are bad and wrong.” “Share everything, play fair, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess,” and on and on it goes.
We are taught that doing these things makes us good little boys and girls. And if you don’t do as you’re told or do something else instead, you’re punished and told that you’re bad and wrong.
The concepts we learn in kindergarten, and the methods used to teach them, cause us to interact with one another in very predictable ways. Even as adults, when someone doesn’t share, play fair, or put things away, there are consequences. They might be judged as inappropriate or inconsiderate. They could be criticized for not being a good friend, neighbor, brother or daughter. In extreme cases, they may even end up alienated from their community or family.
But there’s good news… at any point you can decide to make sure your actions are a reflection of your personal values rather than an attempt to avoid consequences. To do this:
1. Look inside and discover your personal values.
2. Investigate whether your actions are in harmony your personal values.
3. Recognize how your actions can enrich your life and the life of others.
4. Turn your attention away from right and wrong thinking.
5. Think about the values that may be motivating other people’s actions.
How Do You Take These Actions?
To begin living in harmony with your personal values, you must first know what they are. You can discover your personal values in many ways. One way is by asking yourself questions such as: “What is most important to me?” “What is the one thing I would miss in my life above all else?” Once you have your answers, distill them down to the quality that defines them. Another, more structured, way is to participate in a standardized values exercise. You can get one as our gift by visiting our web site. (Find it in the free stuff section.)
Once you have identified your personal values, the next step is to investigate whether the actions you’ve been taking are in harmony with those values. Is sharing in harmony with values you hold dear? Is playing fair important to you? Why is cleaning up your own mess something you personally value? Start answering these questions for yourself. Make sure that all your habitual actions are in harmony with your personal values. If they are, you will discover a renewed excitement about taking these actions. And if you should discover that some of the actions you were taking are not in harmony with your newfound personal values, it’s time to re-examine whether you want to continue taking that action.
Once you have examined your current behaviors, you can look forward to the future. Each time a new choice becomes available, it will be easy to determine how this action will enrich your life and the life of the other people involved. Will it support more closeness and connection? Will it create more trust and intimacy? When you move in the direction of making your life more wonderful, we promise that your happiness will extend to the lives of the people around you.
As we said before, from a very young age we are taught to focus on right-wrong thinking. This thinking creates unpleasant “us” against “them” interactions with the people in your life. Are we playing together so that everyone is having fun? Not with that kind of focus. To start interacting with others so that everyone can be satisfied with the outcome begins by shifting the focus of our attention from who’s right and who’s wrong, to getting to the values that motivate our actions.
So, the next time somebody does something you don’t enjoy, don’t automatically defend yourself and justify your position. STOP, don’t take it personally, and remember that their actions are being motivated by something that they value. Try instead to be curious: “Wow, I wonder what’s going on with them?” Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes: “If I said or did that, what might be going on with me?” See if you can guess. This practice will create constructive interactions with the people in your life that end up being more fun and that leave you much more satisfied.