The Allegory of the Long Spoons

 By Seonaidh, current parent

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You are at a dinner party. This is a sumptuous feast, with delectable food arrayed on your plate. But your silverware…. you only have these long-handled forks and spoons. You are starving, as hungry as Tantalus was thirsty, but you can’t get the food to your mouth. Everyone else at the table is just as miserable, starving and wretched. Consigned here for an eternity. This is hell.

Consider a single change. Same table, same people, same utensils, same eternity. But here, everyone is lifting the food to each others’ mouths. Every person helps the one across from them, tastes the delicious food, savors eternal contentment. This? This is heaven.

This allegory exists in some version or another all around the world, and there is a good reason for that. Humans are social creatures; we have evolved to be collaborate in our social groups. We are more successful individually when we work cooperatively and help our group. Evolution built in a strong feedback loop to reinforce that behavior: it feels good to help; it meets needs for connection and contribution and so much more. Quilting bees, fence-painting parties, barn-raisings--these are all events that are essentially volunteer activities within a social group. They meet specific practical needs; they provide an opportunity to socialize; they indulge our curiosity; they allow us to learn and share our skills; and they often leave artifacts that are a lasting physical testament to the communal effort (like a barn that will be used for 50 years). We feel satisfaction, pride, joy, and share a history over time as we tell and retell stories about the challenges and triumphs of our shared endeavor. We are bound together by our experience, our mutual investment—our interdependence.

And now here we are, jump-starting an entirely new community in The Downtown School. Tuesday night we held our very first Parent Guardian Association meeting. The energy was palpable as we all shared our hunger for connection with other Downtown School families and our ideas for supporting it . . . How might we connect? How might we contribute and collaborate?  

We connect and contribute as volunteers, reaching out. We started with the basics--people stepping up where they could to help put together benches and clean out the school kitchen before school started. This was simple, physical work, but satisfying. We connect with resources, like Chris N.’s expertise for Math 100, or a parent hitting up a New York Times journalist connection for the 9th-Grade History class. There is more to come: Google groups and Facebook pages, social events, weekend activities. And I think there is something quite beautiful about the fact that one of our very first PGA projects turns out to be a series of potluck dinners (featuring normal-sized cutlery, I hope). We connect with the simple act of sharing a meal with each other. Heaven, indeed!

But this doesn’t happen by itself. It takes organization and work from volunteers, just as raising a barn or cleaning a kitchen does. So I entreat you: grab your proverbial hammer and jump in to raise this barn. The PGA is going to be looking for volunteers, please sign up whenever you see an opportunity!