Back a long time ago at playground revolution.com I blogged about my friend Liz. Liz runs an organization devoted to improving low income housing. She's very smart and very serious about her work. One night when a bunch of us were doing our usual political rants over dinner, she excused herself to go hang out with the kids. When she returned, she simply announced that she has little truck for political rants that go nowhere (except perhaps, to opening that next bottle of wine). She named a powerful local politician in our city, a man known both for hardball tactics and getting the job done. "He plays to win," she said. "We need to play to win, too."
Lately I've been wondering what it means to play to win. What would it mean to play to win, in an everyday, mom-world sort of way? I've decided to spend the next few weeks coming up with ways to win, and ways, playground-revolution style, that sometimes veer from the usual things we might think to do, or require more energy than most individual parents have. Getting ready to be politically active is about our personal moments, our readiness to be transformed, as much as it is knowing the right numbers to dial. If we're going to make a fuss, as I wrote toward the end of "The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars," we have some work to do to figure out the personal path toward public fuss-making. I'm putting on my thinking cap to come up with a list of ten ways, at least, that parents in our ordinary worlds can start playing to win, can start turning the tide of public opinion so that it values caretaking and caretakers. If you read and something sparks your imagination, well then chime right in.
Today is number one:
Be Friendly. Smile. Say Hello to People You Don't Know.
When you're out and about in your neighborhood and you cross paths with someone you don't know, squelch your shyness, put aside the cultural training that says to ignore people who come within three feet. Smile brightly. Say hi. You don't have to invite that person over for lunch. You don't have to chit-chat. You don't have to tell them your innermost secrets. Just say hello.
I know. It's hard. I can't tell you how many moms-pushing-strollers I've passed over the years and ignored, dads also, two ships passing in the night. What a lost opportunity, and one with political ramifications.
I've started saying hi. It's not always easy. I'm shy by nature. And pleasant friendliness does seem to be the opposite of the hip and cool parent model that's so pervasive these days. Sometimes the other mom or dad looks surprised. Sometimes she kind of ignores me, as if she's not used to this, and doesn't know what to do in return, and gets all nervouse and anxious. Sometimes, though, she smiles.
I've been trying this in stores, on sports fields, at the pool, everywhere.
I know. You're thinking this advice seems soft, girly, lady-like. Not at all like real politics. Here at the playground, though, we've learned that real change comes from people talking with each other, and you have to start somewhere. Be Friendly, Smile, and Say Hello is not just about spreading more joy and acts of kindness in the world, though that's a side effect, and important in its own right.
Because guess what, it's going to be very hard to talk about the mom-dad-and-family issues of the day without first saying hello. First off, how are you going to find friends and end parenting-isolation without talking? How are you going to ask that nice mom or dad you see at the swing set to join you in political action one day if you don't know their name, and haven't even exchanged the smallest of pleasantries, like "good weather we'?re having" or "how old is that cute child of yours?" How are you going to realize that they too, are annoyed at the way things are, that they're struggling with work, or with not working, or whateverm if you don't say hello and start the ball rolling.
I'?m serious. Think about the right wing and all the rather fabulous organizing they've done in the past decade or so. I may disagree with their politics, but they've been incredibly successful. The same way they stole tactics from the non-violent, lefty protest movements of the 80's, let's steal some back. Look at the politicized church communities they've rounded up in their corner, for example. Do you think they've done that by ignoring each other? No. At church, people say hello. People know your name, they know about your kids, and when it comes time for the pastor to tell you do get to the polls or call senators, or sign a petition ballot or do any of the many things that constitute basic political acts in our nation, you do it. Because they know your name. Because there's some kind of relationship.
Because someone, somewhere made that first step and said hello, somone began a conversation with the question, how are you doing?
We moms and dads can do that too. We must. Try it, and tell me what happens.