Remember how simple everything was back in grade school? You said exactly what you meant, you had a clear sense of right and wrong, and everything was possible. Well, those classic playground rules of your grade school years still apply to life. And best of all, they can make your life easier and possibly more fun.
Playground rules work because they’re clear-cut. If you’re anything like I was, you didn’t put up much of a fight when you got called out with one of these rules. You were busted and you knew it! The result was that you spent less time fighting verbal battles and debating rules, and more time playing. (Ah, the sweet, severely bruised intoxication of a Red Rover victory…) Take a second look at some of the classic playground rules and you might be surprised by how they still apply to your life.
- No takebacks. Once you give something, you can’t ask for it back. Whether it’s a physical gift, a gift of money, or a gift of time, asking for a takeback is pointless. It shows bad faith and makes you untrustworthy. Even more importantly, you can’t take back your words. Once they’re out there, you have to deal with the consequences, however unpleasant they may be. When you decide to give something, give it freely with no strings attached. If you don’t, be prepared for raspberries and wedgies.
- No cutting. There are very few shortcuts in life. If you find one, be sure that you’re not just cutting in front of someone else by taking it. Cheating your way to the front of the line may save you a few seconds now, but the consequences can last for years (or at least through recess). Cutting generates ill will, because it’s a clear signal that you put your own needs in front of others. Don’t be surprised when you get picked last for the next round of dodgeball… or raises.
- Take turns. If you expect to have friends to play with, you’re going to have to learn to take turns. Taking turns is about respecting your playmates and looking for the best solution for everyone involved. So in your work life and love life, it pays to take turns. This can mean sharing the spotlight. It can mean letting your partner choose the movie (even if that means seeing Bad Boys for the 80th time). It can also mean stopping to really listen to the other person’s side of the conversation. There are very few times in life when taking turns doesn’t benefit you.
- No do-overs. In four-square, there are no “do overs.” The same is true of life. If you screw up, you rarely get a second chance. Accept this and move on. Instead of arguing or pleading for a second try, figure out what went wrong and try to fix it. No one respects the kid who constantly requests a do-over, so accept your mistakes and focus on improvement.
- When it’s time to go home, find a partner to cross the street with. There’s safety in numbers and two heads are better than one. When it’s time to head in a new direction, find someone to help you. Whether that person is a family member, a spouse, a partner, a friend, or a dog, they can be your support system to get you through life’s hazards. Can you do things on your own? Absolutely. Should you lean on this person? Not necessarily. But whether you need them or not, having a friend to hold your hand as you cross the street can make the trip a pleasure.
Playground rules are about finding the easiest, most efficient way to work together. Whenever you’re in a tight jam, remember the simple beauty of kid logic. Leave the complicated justifications and rationalizations out of it. Embrace your inner kid and see where it takes you. And above all, play nice.