“My God Is Better Than Your God!” (Or, Applying the Lessons Learned from a 20th-Century First-Grade Bickering Match to the World of 2018)

For the most part, Anita and I got along.  She lived just up the road from me, and we went to the same school.  In first grade, we were paired as deskmates in Mrs. Northrup’s class.  Mrs. Northrup was known to be an old-school, no-nonsense teacher, so on the first day of class, Anita and I resolved to work together and try to get through the grind with honors.

It went well for about a month.  Then, on a sparkling October morning, Mrs. Northrup came to class bearing gifts, and doling out treats.  Cookies!  Home-baked!  She told us she was pleased so far with the progress of the class, and this was a small way of showing her appreciation–though she did issue a warning, along with the sweets: “I expect each of you to keep up the good work,” she said, her thick-rimmed glasses low on her nose as she looked out over the room.  “Let’s not get sloppy and forget why we’re here—to learn.”  Anita looked at me and smiled, then rolled her eyes. Just give me my cookie, her eye roll said, loud and clear.

 

I wasn’t going to poke holes in that logic.  It sounded good to me.  And I indeed wolfed down three cookies, in rapid succession.  I ate so fast, I’d made something of a mess, so I licked the tip of my index finger and used it to pick up the rogue crumbs that had scattered over my half of the desk; then I licked the crumbs clear off my finger.  All done.

 

That’s when I realized Anita was staring at me.

“What?” I said.

“That’s not right,” she said.  She looked genuinely upset.  Meanwhile, all around us, our classmates chewed and laughed and talked, while Mrs. Northrup kept glancing at the clock high on the wall at the back of the room.  I kept expecting her to break in and say, “Cookies down, books open!”  But so far, she just stood there, waiting.  She didn’t eat any of the cookies herself.

 

Truth be told, I almost wished she would announce the cookie party was over.  That way, maybe, we could get back to work and Anita would stop glaring at me.

“What is it?” I asked her again.  “What isn’t right?”

“Your fingers,” she said, her voice dripping with disgust.  “You licked them!”

“So?”

“So,” she said, as if addressing a one-year-old, “you aren’t supposed to lick your fingers.  That’s what napkins are for.”  Here, she held up her napkin.  Indeed, I had one, too.  Mrs. Northrup had made sure each student had one.  “It’s just wrong using your fingers like that.  It’s a sin.”

 

A sin?  I knew Anita belonged to a different religion–Jehovah’s Witness.  She was the only Jehovah’s Witness in the class—and she never participated in holiday celebrations or birthdays.  I remembered feeling bad for her the previous year, during kindergarten, off by herself while the rest of us played and ate and had fun.  But I’d never talked to her about it.  Until now.

 

“Yes,” she said.  “It’s a sin to be sloppy and disgusting.  And that’s what you just were!  Is that what they teach you in your church?”

My church growing up was Catholic.  But I didn’t spend much time thinking about it, and surely never thought twice about licking my fingers!

 

“I always knew it,” she said.  “My God is better than your God.”

“What?” I said.  And then I told her she was wrong.  My God was better than hers; she had it backward.

We went at it for a couple of minutes, neither of us yielding or giving an inch.  We raised our voices.  Anita stuck her tongue out.  So did I.

Suddenly, there was the sound of someone clearing her throat. Mrs. Northrup.  She was standing beside our desk, a scowl on her face.

“If the two of you feel the need to yell and act like toddlers, I think you can do that just as well in the hall.”  And with that, she kicked us out of the classroom.

“Regular class resumes in five minutes,” she told us.  “You work out your differences in the hall, and then I’ll collect you when it’s time.  And when I do, you better behave.  Do you both understand?”

We did.  Mrs. Northrup was not to be trifled with.

Mrs. Northrup’s classroom was at the end of the hall, and there was a bay window there, below which sat an old radiator, a clunky monstrosity—presently not running—that appeared as though it had been installed decades prior.  But it was positioned directly under the bay window at the end of the hall—an inviting perch.  Anita and I hopped up, sat on the sill above it, the sunshine streaming through the window warming our backs.

 

We just sat there, swinging our feet.  Ahead of us, the hallway was empty, just a dull-gray floor lined with closed classroom doors.  Even the janitor, old Mr. Roberts, was nowhere to be seen.

 

I felt bad.  I think Anita did, too.  I felt stupid.  What a stupid fight!  And then I just said something—I can’t remember what, and we talked.  About small things, little things . . . and yet everything.  The animosity that had existed between us mere minutes ago was gone, evaporated like morning dew in the rising warmth.  And when Mrs. Northrup emerged from our classroom five minutes later, punctual as always, Anita and I quietly followed her in and went to our desk.

 

Throughout the rest of the day, and the weeks and months beyond, Anita and I had no more run-ins, no more shouting matches.  We never openly apologized to each other.  We didn’t have to.

But the next time we had cookies, I was sure to use my napkin.

******************************

In some ways, that experience I shared with Anita so many Octobers ago, before the advent of smartphones or digital tablets or Netflix, seems inconsequential—just a couple of little kids fighting about something neither of them understood.  But then, as I reexamine it, turn it over in my mind, suddenly there is a larger theme afoot.

 

When she brought up “her God,” and I rebutted with “my God,” the two of us were instantly polarized.  There was no middle ground to be found in those tense moments when we bickered, cookies on our breath.  She was in her corner.  I was in mine.  And we were determined to prove who was right and who was wrong.  This polarization, this us-against-them mind-set, also summarizes much of what we’re seeing in the world today.  Certainly, in the United States, fellow Americans are at each other’s throats.  Sure, there has always been division and discord, animosity and open, outright hostility.  This is not new.  But the extent of the division, the vitriol, the tribalism that has emerged and thrived in recent years is as widespread as it is alarming.

 

Who’s right, and who’s wrong?  I have strong views on the matter, and surely, so do you.  But a big part of the problem is the growing, yawning gap between us.  All you have to do to see the ugliness, the hate, the anger is log onto Twitter or Facebook, or watch a Senate hearing, or listen to a rally.  Longtime journalist and Watergate veteran Carl Bernstein has described what is presently going on in America as a “cold civil war,” and I believe he is right.

 

But how do we remedy this?  Is there a way to repair the damage, to bridge the gap, and to bring back a means for intelligent, respectful civil discourse? Perhaps a place to start is to realize we have much in common, whether we want to admit it or not, and to endeavor to see our “opponents” not so much as enemies as fellow human beings.  This is where first-graders seem to have more understanding than adults.  Yes, Anita and I, all those years ago, engaged in a childish, fact-free argument.  Again, tune in to the cable news or social media, and you will find we adults are often no better or wiser, and often far worse.  But what Anita and I were able to do was transcend the moment.  When we were ushered into the hall, we didn’t continue to debate.  We didn’t try to one-up each other.  We just sat there and talked; we remembered our friendship, the things that we shared as opposed to the things that divided us, and we moved on.  Perhaps it was easier because we were children.  Perhaps when you’re five or six years old, the essentials in life, the things that matter, are not always so hidden or locked away behind bars of prejudices or hatreds or grudges or polemical ideologies.

 

Perhaps the kids—both the kids of today, as well as the kids we ourselves used to be—have a lot they can teach us.

*************************

Anita and I continued on in school together straight through graduation.  She was my deskmate again, seven grades later, in our junior-high Earth Science class the day The Challenger space shuttle exploded.  And a few years ago, we met at a high school reunion.  It was the first time we’d caught up with each other since our senior year.  But the words flowed easily, as we talked and laughed and reminisced.

Not once did we discuss whose God was better than whose.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. foodinbooks
    Oct 24, 2018 @ 18:14:42

    Since our current leader operates at the first-grade level, and apparently so do many other religious leaders, it is not surprising. Good post.

    Reply

  2. magarisa
    Oct 24, 2018 @ 19:06:17

    What an important lesson for us all. If more of us focused on our similarities instead of arguing over our differences, the world would be a much better place.

    Reply

  3. joannerambling
    Oct 24, 2018 @ 20:01:02

    Yeah a damn good post, we are more alike then we are different

    Reply

  4. K E Garland
    Oct 24, 2018 @ 21:08:36

    First of all, we must be around the same age because I remember watching the Challenger explode on live TV. Also, you and Anita seemed to have done two things: 1) you were in person, eye to eye, and 2) you were silent for a moment. I’m laughing as I type this but seriously, those two things need to happen and then maybe we can remember we’re all just people (and pawns) in a game we probably don’t quite understand 😉

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 25, 2018 @ 18:46:27

      Very well said.:) And yes–living through that Challenger tragedy is something no one who lived in the ’80s will ever forget, is it? I still remember that day as if it were yesterday . . .

      Reply

  5. Rosaliene Bacchus
    Oct 26, 2018 @ 23:24:41

    Great post, Mike. We’ve forgotten how to communicate with each other, because, as K E Garland notes, we rarely speak with each other “eye to eye.”

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 27, 2018 @ 19:54:03

      Thanks so much, Rosaliene! And that is very true. Social media, the digital revolution, all of this new technology can do a lot of good, for sure. But there’s no doubt society in general has become overdependent on the “virtual” at the expense of the real face-to-face interaction.

      Reply

  6. Anna Waldherr
    Oct 29, 2018 @ 16:23:26

    A badly needed reminder in this country. Thank you for speaking out.

    Reply

  7. The Eye-Dancers
    Oct 29, 2018 @ 17:11:37

    Thanks so much, Anna!

    Reply

  8. Karina Pinella
    Oct 31, 2018 @ 00:56:53

    We need a Mrs. Northrup to bake us all cookies. We can fill our mouths so we don’t have to talk!

    Reply

  9. Meredith
    Nov 02, 2018 @ 19:20:16

    I just love this post on so many levels. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply

  10. Dragthepen
    Nov 03, 2018 @ 05:17:19

    Long read but it was worth it.👍

    Reply

  11. RoseMarie
    Nov 04, 2018 @ 04:04:10

    Wonderful post. When will we all realize the world is for all of us and not just any one group of people. The world we’re are living in right now just keeps getting sadder every day.

    Reply

  12. evelyneholingue
    Nov 09, 2018 @ 18:33:11

    Love this post so much, Michael. Our world is larger than just our little corner and we learn so much from one another, even through arguments like the one between you and Anita. Who’s right and who’s wrong doesn’t matter. Listening and accepting that we can see the world differently is more important. Timeless and also timely post.
    On another note, I just had a lot going on here and didn’t have the time to read your book. Soon, however.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 11, 2018 @ 16:59:17

      Thanks so much, Evelyne! You are absolutely right. One of the most profound problems with our world is that too many people are far too provincial, and do not expand their horizons beyond their own echo chamber. Sadly, social media and the digital revolution–which, on the surface, seems like it should help this problem–in some ways has only made it worse. But I tend to be optimistic, so.:) No rush on reading The Singularity Wheel! Just whenever you have the chance.:) Thanks again so much for your support always!

      Reply

  13. Anna Waldherr
    Nov 18, 2018 @ 22:03:22

    Just stopping by to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply

  14. Ste J
    Nov 19, 2018 @ 00:46:35

    Religion has a way of doing that, way too often. As to politics I think it needs to start with both schools teaching critical thinking and how to hold a discussion and also with the media. Rather than spreading lies or focusing on certain issues, they need to hold all sides to a higher standard, only by doing that but pointing out the positives also can there be a proper discussion.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Nov 19, 2018 @ 18:17:21

      Absolutely! As a society, we have certainly lost the ability to disagree civilly. Getting back to intelligent, respectful civil discourse is a must for the world going forward. Sadly, things seem to be trending in the opposite direction.:(

      Reply

  15. ortensia
    Dec 09, 2018 @ 08:26:22

    Nice post😀

    Reply

  16. Sherri Matthews
    Dec 11, 2018 @ 17:17:05

    It’s so good to read you again, Mike, and what a timely and relevant post. You and Anita got past your disagreement and remained friends; if only it could be that way for the adults in today’s world. Why is it that the very idea of agreeing to disagree seems so impossible now? Your writing, as moving and evocative and pertinent as always, brings home a message we all need to read. You’re a great friend, Mike! 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: