In May the graduates of Middlebury College in Vermont listened to former Rep. Barbara Jordan talk about the necessity of living with one another from a basis of shared values. In this excerpt, with the help of some thoughts from the Kansas City Star Times (Sept. 17, 1986) she honors one of life's littlest institutions ... kindergarten.
THIS is the time to identify those values we have in common and incorporate them into our rules for daily living. It is by this that the quality of our civilization is measured.
Any identification of values in common should include the following:
TRUTH: John Rawls, a political philosopher, says of truth that it is ``the first virtue of all human institutions.'' We expect to be told the truth in the myriad interactions of social intercourse. Lying is always wrong. If it is ever to be excused, the circumstances must be a crisis in which life or death is at stake. Those who govern must and should have an unbreachable attachment to the truth.
TOLERANCE: This is a minimum, entry-level value for the society. We celebrate the pluralism which so identifies America. We are a diverse people with differing ideas, beliefs, habits, and customs. And we tolerate diversity as long as it does not threaten public order and safety. Tolerance is a value we have in common. A higher level or plane of this value is RESPECT: The individual is entitled to have his selfhood respected and his dignity protected from violation by others. The movement from mere tolerance to respect represents a change from passive response to engaged feeling and belief. Tolerance and Respect are in the public interest and for the common good.
The imperative of COMMUNITY is shared value. We are human, social, and political and are naturally inclined to organize ourselves into a community. We associate with each other in society for mutual benefit. Such political philosophers as John Locke, David Hume, Thomas Hobbs, John Rawls, and others have written much about the Social Contract which governed once we were no longer in a state of nature. That contract gave us a government of laws and regulated our conduct in ways which made sense.
The antithesis to community is isolation. There is a danger which surrounds anyone who chooses isolation over community. Isolation, underscored and reinforced, leads to a kind of hyperindivid-ualism. Such, carried to an extreme, leads inexorably to anarchy, a nonstate which is in no one's interest....
I leave you with this essay by Robert Fulghum, ``All I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.''
Most of what I really need to know about how to live, 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 sandbox at nursery School.
These are the things I learned: 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're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm milk and cookies are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that...
And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all - LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation, and other nations, to always put things back where we found them and clean up your own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
Tomorrow: Ted Koppel views the Ten Commandments.