Y’all remember a few years ago, when a minister named Robert Fulghum released an essay called “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”? It struck a chord with just about everyone, because it was so simple, and yet so self-evidently clear. “Share… Play Fair.”
As Rev. Fulghum pointed out, it would be a better world if not just individuals but groups and even countries lived our lives according to the rules we learned when we were five years old. For example, as a resident of the Gulf Coast, I really wish large multi-national corporations would behave like kindergarteners – remember the part about “Clean up your own mess,” B.P.?
And this extends beyond just the chart of “Our Classroom Rules” that Mrs. Stoutamire posted on the wall at dear old Fort Braden Elementary. There is a lot of wisdom in some of the books we read to our babies at night, and I think it would be productive to settle Congress down with their blankies for a good bedtime story. Specifically, I’m thinking of one of Dr. Seuss’s lesser-known stories, which is a classic and ought to be more popular than it is: The Zax, from his short-story collection The Sneetches and Other Stories (1960).
In the Prairie of Prax, according to the dear doctor, there lives a strange breed of creature known as the Zax. Now, Zaxes are all alike in one very important way: they are stubborn, obstinate, and inflexible. (I’ve often thought that my youngest daughter is part Zax.) I mean, a Zax will not consider any viewpoint or goals except its own. A Zax is always right, always certain, and it cannot be swayed by any argument, inducement, or threat.
Which leads, inevitably, to the conflict in the story. Dr. Seuss gives us two Zaxes, each completely sure of the correctness of it’s respective position, and yet (as you could predict), 180 degrees removed from the other’s viewpoint. See, there are actually two varieties of Zax: the Southgoing and the Northgoing. Southgoers cannot deviate from their southward path; Northgoers cannot veer off of their northward route. So when these two mulish individuals come face to face in the Prairie of Prax, each insists on having its way.
Not a step to the east or west will a Zax take, and thus both our heroes come to a dead stop, unwilling to make even the tiniest mutual adjustment to allow them to achieve their individual goals. It is more important to win the point than to move on with life.
And the story ends with our Zaxes standing nose to nose, unable and unwilling to do anything other than what they’ve always done. As Dr. Seuss tells it, there had to be a highway bypass built to accommodate them, and the world spins on, leaving them behind.
At At the Dr. Seuss area in Universal Studios Orlando, there is a charming statue of this scene, forever immortalizing the obstinacy of the Zaxes.
Now, let’s leave the Dr. Seuss world of cute little hairy varmints with cute names, and seque in to Congress, which while full of hairy varmints, has little cuteness about it. Once again this week we teetered on the edge of economic shutdown because the Southgoing Zaxes and the Northgoing Zaxes – excuse me, I mean the Republicans and the Democrats – think they cannot give an inch on their political agendas.
Look folks, we don’t care. Go north. Go south. But for God’s sake, think about the rest of us who are out here depending on you to make reasonable, rational decisions. It’s our lives, our children’s futures you are playing with. Don’t be a Zax.