Kindergarten Wisdom and Barbie Busy-ness

My Mom and Dad were grad students when I was born. By the time I was in nursery school, I was hitting the books pretty hard myself.

Until a kindly teacher showed me how to open them.

In kindergarten, I learned those things that Robert Fulghum said he learned in kindergarten -- and was all he really needed to know. In first grade, I learned to read out of the same big book of which Fulghum spoke:
“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. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.” (Fulghum)
Yes, the first word I learned to read in that poster-sized first book, was “Look.”

Look. See. What’s really there? See for yourself. And, as the illustration shows, sometimes be willing to try on some very different shoes, even if they don't seem to fit.

Of course, there’s more than one Barbie. There have been a couple billion of them. Placed head-to-toe, they would circle the earth 7 times – at the equator. There’s more than one anti-Barbie, too. We Unitarian Universalists tend to be a group of anti-Barbies. We don’t represent wider culture’s ideal. When we are joyous, our joy tends not to come from compliance. Indeed, it is more likely to come from resistance and subversion. She is an icon; we are iconoclasts.

She is fantastically popular: according to Mattel, every second, three Barbie dolls are sold somewhere in the world. It takes a little bit longer than that for any Unitarian Universalist congregation to gain three new members. And let’s face it, we aren’t nearly as well-dressed as Barbie.

All things considered, I’ll take us.

One thing you might notice: Barbie never makes embarrassingly stupid mistakes. It’s true she’s generally not terribly bright – you may recall the fuss some years back talking Barbie came out and one of the things she said when you pulled her string was “Math class is tough.” She isn’t a thinker. Yet somehow she just knows how to be perfect. The thing about being a thinker is that we so often reason wrongly or overlook something. As Zen master Koun Yamada put it, “How incompetent intellectual understanding can be!” But though the thinkers make embarrassingly stupid mistakes, they are also the ones who have that satisfaction that only working it out for yourself can provide. Barbie knows neither the joy nor the sorrow of either stupidity or achieving beliefs that are truly her own. She’s an extreme physically, but her thought is unwaveringly unoriginal. We Anti-Barbies embrace the ups and the downs, the intellect’s foibles as well as its assumption-questioning success, as all part of a life fully lived. That, at least, is what I tell myself when I again do something remarkably dumb.

Barbie tries to be all things to as many little girls as possible: she’s been a fashion model, an elementary-school teacher, a ballerina, a nurse and a doctor (a pediatrician) – during our various Mid-East military adventures she has surfaced as an Army medic. She’s been a businesswoman, an actress, an Olympic athlete – both in gymnastics and figure skating – a country-western singer, an astronaut, a Presidential candidate, a paleontologist. As an entrepreneur, she’s produced her own comic-book series, innumerable coloring books, an aerobic work-out tape along with appropriate equipment, she has several lines of computer software, and Barbie movies have moved into the video market. I want to say to her:
“Now, Barbie, I grant you that you and I, we late baby-boomers no longer live in a world where one can expect to hold the same job throughout a 30-year career, but goodness, Sister, all those occupations, all that busy-ness, does make one wonder what internal emptiness you are working so hard, so desperately to fill. In that connection, it occurs to me that in all my years of casually keeping an eye on your careers, one thing I have never seen you dressed in is ministerial robes or collar.”
Yes, physically, she’s an exaggerated ideal – and materially, she’s very well off. She’s bringing in about $1.5 billion a year in Barbie sales. She’s got a pink Corvette with “Barbie” emblazoned on the side. She’s got Barbie’s Dream House. Yet spiritually, she’s an empty vessel.

* * *
This is part 3 of 4 of "AntiBarbies."
Next: Part 4: "Amazing Glorious Fluke"
Previous: Part 2: "The AntiBarbie Work: Get Real"
Beginning: Part 1: "Things Happen for a Reason?"

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