Wisdom With A Gold Star

Becky is Joe's five-going-on-fifteen-year-old daughter. She is in kindergarten, which means she's pretty much got life figured out now. For example, it didn't take her long to notice that she was the only one in her entire kindergarten class whose daddy still went to school. All of the other daddies had jobs, including daddies who work on computers, daddies who build things, daddies who sell things, and even one daddy who is a police officer. When you're in kindergarten, a daddy who is a police officer is prestigious. A daddy who is still going to school like you is . . . well . . . not. "She hasn't said anything, but I can tell by the way she looks at me that she feels kind of sorry for me," Joe told me recently. "Most people think I'm in this law school because I'm smart. My daughter thinks I'm in this law school because I'm an idiot." Which shouldn't come as a great surprise to Joe--pretty much all children see their fathers as idiots at some point in their lives. And they love us anyway. Most of the time. The thing that really seals the deal for Becky is the stars. Every day in kindergarten, the children earn gold stars for their behavior. The more gold stars on their paper at the end of the day, the better behaved they were. Usually Becky comes home with four or five stars on her paper. So when Joe brought one of his papers home from law school, she wanted to see it. It may surprise you to learn that one of America's leading law schools doesn't normally put gold stars on student papers. So there were no stars on Joe's paper for Becky to see. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Joe could see the realization dawning in Becky's eyes. Not only was her father an idiot, but he was an idiot who behaved poorly. Becky looked at her father compassionately and benevolently, as one might look at someone to whom life has done a great disservice. "It's okay, Daddy," she said, patting his hand sympathetically. "I'll get a good job." And as far as Becky is concerned, that's okay. The way she sees it, she's got kindergarten under control. Law school and the rest of life can't be any more difficult than that, can it? Of course, those of us who have lived more than five years on this planet understand that there's a little more to it than that. While it may be true, as Robert Fulghum's wonderful book indicates, that All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, there is much to be said for the things we learn--sometimes painfully--through years of living and experience. We may learn in kindergarten, as Fulghum writes, that you should "say you're sorry when you hurt somebody." But it is only through years of experiencing the pain of hurting and being hurt that we learn why that's such a good, healthy, healing idea. Or we may learn in kindergarten that we should "play fair." But we have to see and experience the consequences of unfairness to truly understand why playing fair is so important. "Not all learning comes from books," said country music superstar Loretta Lynn. "You have to live a lot." It's called wisdom, and you don't learn it at school--not even the most prestigious of law schools. You don't even learn it in kindergarten, although some of it probably starts there. It rarely comes quickly or easily. But it comes in powerful ways that you never forget. With or without the gold stars.
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