Though adorable, little people firmly believe the cosmos revolves around me. I’m first, while the rest of humankind stands in a Disney World line, applauding such wisdom.
As shoe sizes grow, though, so does the unwelcome conviction that other people matter.
My parents and teachers mercilessly preached that we should take turns. So, on the playground, we pondered how to settle who was “it” in tag and hide-and-go-seek. Who would go first during world championship four square and hopscotch tournaments? Who won the right to the highest monkey bars (and most likely trip to the ER)?
Teachers suddenly abdicated. “Work it out.”
Crying — which worked during early grades — now roused irritation. Scathing cries of “Baby!” ensured the weeper would never be allowed to lick someone’s red licorice whip.
So, we clobbered each other. Then discovered recesses in the principal’s office weren’t fun.
Eventually, junior diplomats introduced oral traditions whose influence has rivaled the Constitution’s. A future Secretary of State — or mother — gathered playground barbarians in a circle and chanted a rhyme. On the accent of every poetic foot, she pointed to each tennis-shoed foot:
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe,
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miney, moe.
Federalists advocated emphatic law enforcement. Those leaders bumped our fists:
One potato, two potato, three potato, four,
Five potato, six potato, seven potato, more.
Jeffersonians advocated individual input:
Bubblegum, bubblegum, in a dish,
How many pieces do you wish?
With each rhyme, the person matched with “moe,” “more,” or “wish” would be “out” or “it,” as determined beforehand.
Rock-Paper-Scissors prevailed in later years. Participants simultaneously shaped their hands into a rock (fist), which beat scissors (two spread fingers), which beat paper (a flat extension of the hand), with paper triumphing over rock.
This tool currently rules playground games and restaurant checks, even aiding our judicial system. According to a 2006 CNN report, a Florida federal judge ordered two lawyers to settle their ongoing dispute through Rock-Paper-Scissors on Tampa’s courthouse steps.
Purists argue that Rock-Paper-Scissors is not truly random. Tournament players study which gestures are favored by opponents. During competition, they may confuse rivals by shouting, “Rock!” while giving a “scissors” gesture.
Playground rhymes didn’t always prove just, either. Smart little number nerds like my husband, often leaders in “Eeny Meeny,” “One Potato” and “Bubblegum,” exerted definite influence on outcomes.
Life wasn’t and isn’t always fair. We still should promote the best justice possible, right?
Perhaps the President and Congress should follow the Florida judge’s example. “One Potato, Two Potato” or “Rock-Paper-Scissors” might help settle governmental stalemates.
A little playground justice might even solve the current toilet paper shortage.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What was your favorite playground-justice tool?