Friday, April 29, 2011

Playground Politics

She would never admit it to anyone, but Elaine got a thrill out of being playground monitor.  She saw herself, in quiet moments, as the overlord of an intricate web of social connections and hierarchies.  She surveyed as children fought for dominance in the sandbox, determined who could ride the swings first, pushed their way ahead in line for the slide.  Every moment another child would make his claim to a piece of playground equipment and have to prove his dominance over the child in charge.  Fierce battles would erupt and she would be the one to determine the victor.

Now, in terms of her job, she should have punished the dominant child- the one who pushed hardest or hit.  The rules led that child to time out and demanded a stern redirection.  But from time to time, she had to reward those who showed signs of leadership capacity.

That’s what most people didn’t understand.  It was less like the African Sahara where male lions would fight over the spoils and more like primitive forms of government.  Some children even showed Machiavellian policies.  They would kidnap dolls and hold them hostage in order to secure their time on the swing set.  They would lie to another child that someone else had called them a name and then steal their spot on line for the slide when they went to tell her.  One child, by sheer intimidation, had scared the other children into making offerings from their lunch bags, just so that they could sit on the bench with him.

She knew enough about the world to know that these kids would grow into leaders, using the same tools and underhanded dealing that all other leaders did.  It was just the way of the world and she wasn’t going to try to change it.

So when Tommy came to her tattling that Jimmy had taken his new toy from him she did what she was supposed to do- she went to talk to Jimmy.  She made him give it back and when Tommy returned to the sandbox to continue his epic dig she asked Jimmy what he did wrong.

“I… I took his toy without asking?” he said, hesitantly.

“No, she said, “you got caught.”

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