Sunday, January 01, 2012

Everything I Know About Character, I Learned on the Playground

It’s a fact of life, if you play your hardest, your ass is going to hit the blacktop. If the fall is bad enough to break something, you’re allowed to cry for a minute or two. Otherwise, rub some dirt on it and get back in the game.

Most games are full of bad calls. You’d take the ones that go in your favor easy enough.  Don’t whine about the ones that go against you.

Nobody likes a snitch. Not even the teachers.

You’ll never feel good about a game you had to win by cheating.

Nobody likes to lose, but it’s way more fun with friends on your team to laugh with.

Not all of the “Teacher’s Rules” apply. Sometimes they’re just plain stupid. Never hurt a friend to follow a rule.

You’ll find a lot of friends to laugh with, and lots more when you have something to share. But the best friends are the ones who are still on your side, even when you’re dead wrong.

Nice guys really do finish last a lot of the time. But they’d feel a lot worse finishing first if they had to be a son of a bitch to do it.

Gum, candy, and any other contraband that’s against the rules always taste sweeter
when you’ve got a buddy to share it with.

A quick wit, when used properly, can garner you more attention than looks or money.

A quick wit, when not used properly, will teach you how to fight.

There is no “Time Out” in a fight. There are also no rules. The only real aim is to be the last one standing, so know what you’re getting into before you run your mouth or swing. (Fight stories always sound way cooler than a black eye feels).

Sometimes the kid picked last for a team will be the one who wins the game. Never discount anyone.

You’re not going to be the best at everything, but most of the kids around you are too busy worrying about how good they’re doing to notice anyway.

The most genuine people are the ones who do their good deeds by stealth. Don’t put too much faith in the guy who does you a favor, but reminds you of it in front of others.

Trying to make someone feel small makes you smaller.

Never pick on the weaker kid. You might get lucky enough to have a bunch of people around you that won’t stand up for him, but they’ll secretly wish a bigger kid pummels you later. Eventually they’ll all be bigger kids.

Sometimes doing the right thing will get you in trouble. Better to take a punishment than to have to live with not doing the right thing.

As you can tell, we cursed a bit on my playground. And to be honest, everything I learned about character I learned from my father first – life just has a way of reinforcing its truths. And it’s really never more honest than it was in the beginning, before people start holding their tongues to stay polite.

Which bit of character did you pick up on the playground?


Stephen Parrish said...

I love this list. My favorite: Trying to make someone feel small makes you smaller.

I think we have to remember what we endured when we very young to understand what we're expected to endure today.

Sun Singer said...

Well-learned lessons. And wise ones as well.


Merry Monteleone said...

Happy New Year, Stephen!

I think that's the appeal with middle grade and YA for me, the most important themes start there and wind through your entire life. And where there's a beginning, everything is new and intensified.

(pssst - I like that one, too.)

Merry Monteleone said...

Thanks, Malcolm! And Happy New Year!

Laurel said...

Thick and fast with insights!

My roughest "playground" lesson was that social inertia is hard to fight. A few people decide you're the armpit of the class and the ball starts rolling faster than you can catch it. Even if you know they're all wrong, it still hurts your feelings.

But if you grow a sense of humor, it makes everything better. And it's a social currency that is universally accepted. Even the meanest kids can't win against a quicker wit.

Wendy said...

Merry, this is a wonderful post. There is not nearly enough emphasis on character building these days (in my opinion).

Peter Dudley said...

Not one word on here I'd dispute. And they all are totally true.

One more I'd add:
If you're stuck with a bully as a project partner and can't change, don't whine. Do your best and treat them like you'd treat anyone else until the project is over. The bully might appreciate it, and at some point in the future, it could be helpful to have a big bully on your side.

(Learned from experience as a parent--my son was stuck with one of the "bad kids" and the teacher refused to make any changes. Over time, even though my kid did all the work and they both got the good grade, my son came to be seen as "an OK kid" even though he's in the nerdy crowd. The following term, someone was about to harass my son, and the former lab partner said something like, "Hey, leave him alone. He's OK." Not that that's right... but it helps to have allies everywhere.)

Merry Monteleone said...


It's absolutely right. He earned that kid's respect on his own merit, not just because he did all the work (a bully would still take advantage if that was all).

In the grande scheme of things, nice guys often finish last... but they also make real friends along the way... more than they sometimes realize.

Merry Monteleone said...


Sometimes the biggest problem is that people who know better aren't strong enough to stand up.

It's always been the case. Cowardice can be far more damaging than mean.

Merry Monteleone said...

Thanks, Wendy.

I gained a lot of intellectual knowledge in school... but the lessons that stick for me generally fall back to character and morals.

angelawd said...

I miss your posts, Merry! Hope you're doing fantastic writing work elsewhere.