This homily was first preached at the First UU Congregation of Brooklyn for a kid-friendly service. It talks about sharing, bullying, and standing up for what’s right.
Who here is either in Kindergarten or has ever attended Kindergarten? A good many of you! Excellent! So if the UU minister, and author, Robert Fulghum is right from the story we just heard – we already know all we really need to know about living as good people. Is he right? Can it be that simple? I want to start off by saying why it is that simple – and then we’ll talk a little bit later about why it’s not really that simple. If you’re new to UU, let me tell you that this is a really good example of how we think here. Or as my Italian mother would say, “Well.., yeah, no.”
What did Rev. Fulghum say again? In short – “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” Now these are some rules to live by. For the most part, I think we can all agree that following them would make for a better, kinder world. We might come up with some exceptions for self-defense, or caring for our loved ones. But for every day living, it’s hard to argue with them. If you’ve graduated from Kindergarten, and you have taken these rules to heart, you have a graduate degree in human living!
But do most of us live this way most of the time? Do we always share? (shake head) Maybe we don’t have enough for ourselves. Or maybe we feel like we’ve worked so hard for what we have we don’t want to share any of it. When we do share – why are we doing it? (Call out some answers — kindness, helping other people, we feel better, sometimes we’re lucky and others are unlucky.) Garnett mentioned some of this in her words this morning – sharing or as she put it generosity makes us feel better but it also helps the world. It reminds us that we’re connected to the world around us. It’s an expression of the reality that we all got where we are today by the help of others in the world – the parents or caregivers that raised us; the teachers that taught us; the scientists and doctors who discovered a cure that keeps us healthy and so on. Because so many people have come before us and done things that makes our life and happiness possible – we in return share. And the circle continues.
I remember a story Gini Courter once told me. She’s the Moderator of the UUA – that’s like the Chair of the Board (or ruling body) of our denomination. She was driving on the road one day and came up to a toll booth and was pulling out her wallet to pay (this was back in the ancient days before EZ pass- just after dinosaurs stopped roaming the earth.) The toll collector said – “You don’t have to pay me today. The guy in front of you paid for your toll.” She got a smile on her face from the kind deed. What do you think she did? (allow for answers) She paid it anyway and said give it to the next person. What just happened? She’s not coming ahead in money at all! Yet she’s only smiling even more! Instead, just like how the generous person ahead of her put a smile to her face, she gave that smile to the next person coming after her. Now maybe that next person really needed the break – or maybe they’ll just get a smile to their face. But I can imagine a long row of drivers having a very different view of the day from it.
If you have some paper and a crayon with you, I invite you to pay forward yourself right now. Draw something that makes you happy and later today give it as a gift to someone here in the congregation you might not know. Or maybe give it to a friend or family member. It could be a hope, or a silly picture, or even a Valentine in honor of the holiday this week!
That’s what I think sharing really does. It tells the people around you that you care, that you’re willing to help, that they’re not alone. It’s not about giving up what you have, but about recognizing how much your friendship means to you – how much more than the thing you’re sharing.
The seeds we just planted are a little like this. We’ve planted them, and not labeled them as ours. We’ll care for them in their little pots for a little while and when it gets a little warmer, many of them will be planted in front of our building on Monroe Place. They’ll grow for the Spring and part of the Summer and brighten the sidewalk for all to see. We’ll be sharing with our community a little of what we did here today – just to make the neighborhood brighter.
But there’s also another significance. We don’t always know what good thing will come of our actions. In life, we sometimes do a small thing – a small good act. We might come to know immediately that it helped someone and it was appreciated. Or we might pay for the next person’s toll and never know if they were thankful or if they even needed it. These seeds are like that. Some of them may not take root. Others will grow strong for a time. When they’re out for the neighborhood to enjoy – it’s just random who will walk by. One of those people may have a day where they really need the help in finding a smile on their face again – and our flowers might just do that for them. In life, sometimes our actions will have a bigger effect on the world around us than we can easily imagine.
Following the prayer and offertory, Kirby Amour will talk about how some of her good work led her to a bigger impact on the world than at first she thought.
Robert Fulghum also said, “Play fair. Don’t hit people…. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.” I see all of these things as sort of the opposite of sharing. It’s all about thinking that what little you have, is more important than the people around you. If you cheat, or take what’s not yours, you’re saying those things are a bigger deal than the person next to you. This can be a really dangerous thing when countries are fighting over resources like oil or consumer markets. But in the everyday, it can feel like a big deal too.
Has anyone ever had to deal with a bully before? (I have.) I think most of us had to face a bully at one time in our life or another. Sometimes they’re on the playground; sometimes they’re in the office next door; sometimes they’re a spouse or someone you’re dating; sometimes they’re a country. Some of these things we might feel like we can’t handle ourselves, but the lesson on how to deal with it, we learned in Kindergarten. We just don’t always remember.
For some of us, dealing with a bully is learning to not be one ourselves. If you find yourself planning on not playing fair, or hurting someone physically or emotionally – the kindergarten rules remind us – just don’t. But often the bully is someone else – it’s still good to check in with friends (or fellow committee members) every so often and ask them – was I just a bully? This might seem silly – but we all know bullies in our lives. We’ve all sat through painful lunches (whether in school or in the office.) And there are a lot of people that try to get their way at the expense of another person. Sometimes they’re not bullying us – they’re bullying another person.
This is where the Kindergarten rules are just too simple. Sometimes it’s not enough to just follow them. It’s not enough to just share, or to just not be hurtful. Sometimes we have to take a stand. Sometimes we have to not let something just go by us. If someone is bullying someone else, it’s not tattling to bring it to everyone’s attention. It’s being a good person.
Adults might call it challenging or changing the system. When one person breaks from the norm – when one person calls out what’s not right, others may follow – and then the system (how everyone acts with one another) changes. Our youth and our adults are invited next Sunday (Feb 24th) after worship to a workshop on this very thing in the Chapel. It’s a conversation about Racial Justice. We’ll be learning and relearning ways to stop bullying of people based on their identity. There are a lot of words we use to describe this – prejudice, racism, bigotry – but they’re all forms of bullying. Some are just more obvious than others.
We’re also talking about producing another video this year on Sunday, March 3rd. It’ll be like last year’s Valentine’s Day video for Marriage Equality that you can find our website where we crafted thank you Valentines for NY State representatives who supported the passage of Marriage Equality in our state – so that all people who love one another in our State can get married to whom they want to marry. This year we’re hoping to have more Valentines of gratitude to send regarding legislature that’s being considered. (But it might turn into a letter writing campaign instead.) We’re considering two things that involve safety in our neighborhoods and schools, and one Act that’s about safety for Women. The world can be complicated, but bullying comes in many forms. We’ll talk more about Gun Control and the Violence Against Women Act in the weeks ahead. I would like to thank Weaving the Fabric of Diversity for helping with the research on this project in collaboration with our Religious Education program.
These videos are like the Sweet Pea plants we’re planting. We create them, plant them, and you never know who may come by to view it – appreciate it – to change from it. Our last video has been seen everywhere from the Huffington Post, to the General Assembly of the UUA in Phoenix, Arizona, to our own District Annual Meeting. It’s been used in Regional Youth Leadership programming. It’s been picked up and re-shared through our denomination’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign -which has a following in the tens of thousands. I’ve been told by some of you that you first came to this congregation because you saw the video on the website.
It’s not always easy to know where our paths will take us. It’s not always simple to draw the line from the good we do today to the good that will come of it tomorrow. It is important to have faith though, that our actions will grow good from where we are good, and grow harm from when we are harmful. All we really need to know about life we learned in Kindergarten may be too simple to solve all things, but it’s a really good foundation for where to start.
 “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum