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Playground Justice

One of the best things about having kids is the permission to witness playground justice in action up close.

Yesterday we were at the playground with some friends. One of the girls befriended another little girl and her brother, and a new little gang was formed.

There was another child playing with their sibling at the other end of the playground. This kid was being a bit of a menace, racing around on his balance bike. But he was much younger than the other kids, maybe three years old. Five and six year olds should be able to cope with a three year old, even if he was a menace.

He’d race toward them and they’d all scatter. Then he got off the bike and the foot chase began. “Alexander is coming” one would call out, and they’d all start running away. Then he’d run back to the other end of the playground with at least one kid running after him giving chase. A few moments later that kid would be back, fake crying “that mean kid hit me with his water bottle”. Shortly after, another “Alexander is coming” would start and so the cycle continued.

After a while there was a bunch of five and six year olds cowering behind the swings, claiming to be scared because the “mean” kid would get them.

I spoke to my daughter. It was time for intervention. “He’s not a mean kid, he thinks you’re playing a game. If you want to stop, you have to stop encouraging him. Try telling him to stop and that you don’t like it, or ask him if he’d like to play another game. But you have to stop running after him. You guys are keeping this going as much as him”

She went and played the monkey bars. Game over. Alexander started playing (nicely) with my son. Yes, you can call me the fun ruiner if you want to. But that game wasn’t a good one, so I’m ok with that.

Looking for someone or something to blame is almost an inbuilt response. So often we get caught up in cyclical patterns of behaviours and its natural to feel like life is happening to us. Like someone else is the villain. But oftentimes, if we take a step back, things look very different.

With perspective you can start to see the feedback loops that are perpetuating the problem. You can notice your role within the system. You can start to empathise with the so called villain and consider how they may in fact be being victimised.  You can start to see that the only way to change the system is to take action on the one thing you have control over – your action and your behaviour.

When we move to thinking about the system we shift from reacting to responding. Response allows progress and evolution, reacting keeps us stuck in the status quo. I know which one I prefer.