photo: Creative Commons (Stephen Oung)

I want to tell you a story today about a very special playground.

There once was a group of children who all lived in the same neighborhood. They liked to play outside together, and sometimes they played at the house with the swingset, and sometimes they played at the house with the great sandbox, and sometimes they played in the treehouse in one of their back yards.

One day, when they were playing in the treehouse, they got talking about how cool it would be if all of these fun things: swings, a sandbox, the treehouse, and maybe some other things, like slides and some monkey bars and cool climbing structures, could be all together in one awesome playground. So they got organized and talked to their parents about their idea, and with some time, hard work, and money, they built themselves quite a playground. It was a really fun place to play, and soon word got out and kids from other neighborhoods would come and play there too.

I don’t think there was ever a time that a child who went to that playground went home sadder than when they arrived. No, playing here was good for the soul! Playing here caused everyone to smile and laugh, and to feel at peace. It was a good place!

It was so good, in fact, that after a while, it got so it was often pretty crowded and sometimes you had to wait in line to play on the equipment you liked best. Plus, with all the use, one of the swings broke, and the bouncy dinosaur that the toddlers liked, lost its bounce. Eventually, some of the equipment not only broke, but it became unsafe to use.

The original kids went to their parents and whined that all the other kids were ruining their playground. “What can we do????” they asked. Well, their parents had an idea. With so many kids using it, how about selling tickets to play there? If you wanted to play, you simply had to buy a ticket. They would use the money from the ticket sales to fix the equipment and buy a few new things too. The kids liked this idea, and before selling tickets, they installed a fence, to make sure no one without a ticket could get in.

At first, the ticket scheme worked: they made money and were able to make some great improvements on the playground. But unfortunately, some kids couldn’t afford the tickets. These kids would stand outside the fence just watching, and the kids inside, though they tried not to look, could see the sadness on these other kids’ faces. In fact, seeing how sad they were made the inside kids feel not so happy anymore when they came to the playground. No longer did they go home happier than when they came. It just didn’t feel fair that the playground wasn’t open for anyone who wanted to come play. And when things don’t feel fair, no one can be truly happy.

So again, the kids went to their parents, saying to them, “Yes, the playground is bigger with more equipment, and everything works safely, and we never have to wait in lines. But it doesn’t make us as happy as in the beginning, when it was free for everyone.”

So here’s what they did: they decided that anyone could come at any time and enjoy the playground for as long as they liked. But now they would ask everyone to pay a donation, as much as they could, as much as they thought was fair, so that there was money to repair the equipment, and money to expand the playground if they wanted.

The kids started having regular meetings where they’d talk about their dreams for new playground features. Then, with their parents’ help, they would research the cost, and tell people about the improvements they were hoping to make. They would regularly encourage donations to make the playground bigger, better, and more fun and special all the time. And you know what? This was a great idea! People wanted an amazing playground so they gave amazing amounts of money! In fact, when they saw what the first donations bought, they gave even more, because they wanted the best playground they could imagine.

After a while, there were a variety of slides, several ziplines between multiple tree houses, and beautiful gardens and fountains. There was equipment for the youngest toddlers, as well as a really funky hang-out place designed by the teenagers. There were many wooden benches under shady trees, where parents could sit and chat while their children played. There were quiet places to lie back and watch the clouds go by, and playing fields for all sorts of sports. There were paths and hiding places, rocks to jump off of, and long ropes to swing on.

And you know what? Whenever kids and their parents spent time at this playground, they all had a really special and wonderful time. Here was a super-fun place where they could learn and grow, test their strength and flexibility, practice sharing and cooperation, and explore themselves and their world. With old and new friends, they played, and every time they went away from the playground, they went home feeling happier, more peaceful, and more hopeful about the world.

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