Conflict Resolution Starts in the Sandbox

The sand beckons them. One child reaches for a shovel and kneels, prepares to dig. The other takes off his shoes and swishes his bare feet back and forth. “A sand angel!” he exclaims. His whole body is in the game now, back flat, head still, arms flailing. Again and again he returns to recreate the form his body makes in the sand. Each time, more sand is kicked up into the air, his vigorous movements creating a spray in the blue sky above.

As the sand flies higher, the digging child, the neighbor caught beneath the storm, must make a choice. Sand is getting into his hair and into his carefully dug hole. But what should he do?

Here are five possibilities he might consider:

  1. Yell “HEY!” and forcefully shove the offender away.
  2. Quickly get up and leave the sandbox until the offender has finished.
  3. Draw a line in the sand and tell the offender never to cross the boundary.
  4. Threaten to destroy the offender’s project in return.
  5. Engage the offender in the digging project.

Depending on the child’s temperament and also based on what has worked well for him in the past, one of these options might be more appealing.

But which is the right way to handle it? The ethical choice?

The Parent’s Dilemma

To the adult observing, perhaps it is clear who was in the wrong and who should be the one to change his behavior or leave the sandbox. We, the adults, have created a rule, and that rule is “No throwing sand - EVER,” because let’s face it: a sobbing child with sand in the eyes is no joke!

As parents, our instinct is often to intervene immediately and not risk the possible sand-throwing war that could ensue between the two parties. We are also aware of a culturally confining unwritten book called Good Parenting, which instructs: Remind everyone of the rules and strictly enforce them at all times. The consequence of not adhering to this parenting format puts one in a bit of social danger. No one wants to be thought of as the bad parent.

Really Good Parenting

Courage is required for thinking outside of the box. As well, constantly intervening in potential conflicts is both exhausting and, to be honest, a thoughtless approach to child rearing. It is the dog barking at every passing stranger - regardless of whether or not he is here to burgle. If we want our children to learn how to make the ethical choice in the sandbox, we must see ourselves not as rule enforcers but as ethics mentors.

We must teach them to think critically and very quickly through a series of questions that may look something like this:

  1. Does the sand-throwing pose an immediate danger to oneself, the community, or the environment?
  2. Is the sand-throwing intentional?
  3. Does the sand thrower see the digger sitting there nearby?
  4. Is violence (shoving) necessary in order to stop the danger?
  5. Would stepping away to observe allow one to get a different point of view (and out of danger)?

Why World Leaders Throw Sand

Imagine, now, that we are not talking about two children in a sandbox but two world leaders engaged in an international conflict. Their options are very similar: retaliate physically, ignore, build a wall, threaten to destroy, negotiate by finding mutual interests…

To make these choices, leaders need the ability to see the world from a different culture’s point of view and also to be able to quickly determine the most probable positive outcome of an action.

We want skilled, experienced persons who will think not just about satisfying their own ego or ensuring their nation’s safety but also about the global community at large and the effect of their actions on the Earth. The questions they must ask themselves are, not surprisingly, similar as well.

If we want to create the ethical leaders of tomorrow, where do we begin?

We begin in the sandbox.