The Sandbox Rule

My wonderful friend and colleague Curtis likes to say that when hiring someone, it is especially important to ascertain that the applicant can “play well in the sandbox.” This sandbox rule is a good one for professors; it is best to actually like your coworkers when you have a job that includes a potential guarantee of lifetime employment. I’m lucky: I love my colleagues (at least most of them). And while I frequently compare my Political Science department to the bar scene from Star Wars (we’re all different creatures playing different instruments), our sandbox is practically perfect.

The sandbox rule extends beyond the ivory towers, because the harmonious concept of playing well together is generally viewed in a positive light. Some people are more affable than others, but in the main I think it is safe to say that kindness is a virtue. The sandbox rule can be distilled down to it’s playground essence: share, care, and don’t be an asshole (although most Kindergartens phrase this differently).

I’m sure you can predict where I’m going with this: many Americans today are slowly but surely ditching the sandbox rule. It is easy to let our emotions take hold of us, shake us like a Polaroid picture, and encourage the kind of temper-tantrum reactions that we would normally punish with time-out behavior. It’s just too easy to read or hear about something, hop online, and let the flogging begin. We are less inclined to share, care, and many people are all-too happy to become assholes, especially when ensconced in protective filter bubbles that encourage confirmation bias.

When we are shielded by our monitors, when we develop keyboard courage, we are delighted to clap back against a perceived foe with a clever insult or witty slam. We are then rewarded for our deft savagery by the likes and shares from fellow travelers, which only serves to encourage bad behavior. This has to stop, mostly because it’s just flat-out mean. Defend principles, argue effectively for a position, but leave the name calling out of it.

My daughter is incredibly flexible about the cleanliness of her room. That’s the nicest way of saying that 9 times out of 10, her room resembles a scene from Sharktopus. When she was six, I stepped through the detritus on her floor and said: “Hey, Slobella. Clean up your room,” and my baby looked up at me and softly replied “Please don’t call me names.”

If you have a heart, or know someone who does, that story just knocked you in the solar plexus as it did me. She was right. An unrepentant mess-maker, yes, but one who is correct. Calling people names is mean and it’s unnecessary. If the strength of a position isn’t enough to win an argument, then you’ve lost the argument. It is always better to follow the sandbox rule and play nicely with others, because we all have to play in the big sandbox together and there are some kids out there who have some cool toys to share.

So let’s all follow the example of this smart guy who plays well in the sandbox. He cares, he’s a total delight, and he’d share his book with you but thinks that you should probably get one for yourself. Or, since he clearly has access to his parent’s Amazon Prime account, ask him to do you a solid: send him your address and a drone can have it in your hot little hands in the next 17 minutes.

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