The tragedy of the commons

She is eight years old and she is drawing a picture of a whale in a tumultuous ocean. You smile at her and she returns the favour. “That’s a nice whale” you say. She responds “there aren’t many left”. She talks about oil exploration in the arctic regions, the rights of indigenous people and climate change. “She’s a precocious one” you think.

Sitting side by side watching the other kids play, she lets out a sigh, “why can’t everyone just be nice to each other”. You don’t know how to answer that. You know the answer, but you don’t want to break her innocence, you want to let her have a few more years believing there is a solution to every problem, that zero sum games do not exist, that love can conquer all.

You walk out of the room and have a cup of tea, you chat with the lady in the hall about one of the boys and his tendency to try and remove his clothes.

You hear crying and run back into the children’s room. That precocious child has her teeth firmly embedded in another boy’s hand. Her eyes flash with primitive rage.

“Why did you do that?” you ask the girl when she has calmed down.

“He tried to take my crayons” she said.

“They’re not your crayons” you tell her “they belong to the school”.

She looks ashamed, then turns back to colour her whale, with the crayons, while the boy tends to his wounds.

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