Of Cops and Kids and Chess (and Cupcakes)
Those were the words heard recently by two groups of individuals who, rather than being dinged by the cops, probably deserved some sort of medal.
The first was a group of seven men lurking near a playground. Scary, right? Get them away! In fact, signs at the entrance to the playgrounds in my town, New York City, forbid any adults from entering unless they are accompanying a kid, which these guys were clearly not.
What they were doing was playing chess.
The fact that they've been doing this for years did not faze the cops. Nor did the fact that these guys have actually taught a bunch of local kids the game of kings. My own boys have played with the grizzled chess guys we see in parks, too. It's a treat for the younger generation, and with a $3 tip, maybe worth it for the older guys, too. Or maybe the tip is gravy and they just love bringing chess into kids' lives. What a menace!
The problem, clearly, is not the men, it's the law and the thinking behind it: The idea that any adult anywhere near a child is a potential pedophile. Thinking that way is what I call "Worst First" thinking: The first thing we think about is the worst thing possible -- that these guys could be predators. And the last thing we think about is the fact that most people are good, and these specific guys have done nothing bad. By the way, they have a right to the park like anyone else. Forget role models. Friendship. Community. Worst First thinking focuses only on fear.
The other group recently razzed by the police are Andrew DeMarchis and Kevin Graff, two middle-school boys in suburban New York, who were told to pack up their bake sale at their local park because they didn't have a permit.
Do you get the feeling that the police feel their job is to empty the parks?
Anyway, the boys were cited for trying to raise money for themselves, not charity -- a fact they never denied -- and, while they weren't arrested, they were sent home and told not to do this again. "This" being "show an ounce of go-get-'em in an era when kids are supposed to be home playing video games." As the parks commissioner explained, "We need to know who is in the park and what they are doing. What if there was work going on that was dangerous?"
Ah, my other favorite joy-killing habit: Worrying, "What if ... blah blah blah?" There is no way to answer a "What if?" question because it's always hypothetical: "What if they were selling cookies and a hungry bear came by?" If so, it would be really dangerous to have a bake sale. Therefore -- because you can't say that could never happen -- no child should ever do anything.
So now we have chess players prevented from connecting with kids and kids prevented from connecting with grownups and the world of entrepreneurship. Everyone has been split apart because of Worst First and What If thinking.
Boy, are my kids safer now.
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