Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dispute Resolution the Old-Fashioned Way

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dispute Resolution the Old-Fashioned Way

Article excerpt

When parents weren't around to mediate, Ink-a-dink and other rhymes used to have the final word.

I recently took my teenage son and one of his friends to the local tennis courts. Even though tennis is known as a "gentleman's game," tempers can still flare, even when John McEnroe is not involved. Two 14-year-olds will do nicely.

The dispute was over whether the ball was "in" or "out" of bounds. I looked on, quietly, as Anton and his pal Jeff went at it, yelling across the net in turn, as if the dispute, and not the ball, were the thing being played.

I'd finally had enough. I got up, pulled the boys together, and suggested we "choose it out." They both looked at me as if I'd spoken Martian. "Yes," I repeated. "We'll choose." And then I reached back and hauled something out of the attic of my childhood recollections: the most potent tool of conflict resolution available to a kid on the streets of 1960s New Jersey - Ink-a-dink.

"Ink-a-dink, a bottle of ink," I recited as I pointed back and forth between the two boys, "the cork fell out, and you stink."

The "stink" fell on my son, but before he could protest, my finger had moved on. "Not because you're dirty..."

The "dirty" finger went to Jeff.

"Not because you're clean..."

My son beamed at being designated "clean."

"Just because you kissed a girl..."

Both boys smiled.

"Behind a magazine."

"Ha!" proclaimed my son, because my finger had come to rest on him. But not so fast - there was more to the rhyme.

"My mother says to pick the very best one..."

Now I slowed the cadence as I recited the last four words, pointing with deliberation at each boy in turn.

"And - you - are - it!"

"It" was Anton.

Both boys looked bewildered. "What does that mean?" pleaded Jeff. "If he's 'it,' he's wrong. Right?"

I slowly shook my head. "I'm afraid not," I said. "'It' means he wins. You'll have to give him the point."

Jeff was indignant. "It's not fair," he said, swiping the air with his racket.

"Whoa, whoa," I counseled. "Are you questioning Ink-a-dink?"

"I'm not," said Anton, beaming with satisfaction.

Enough said. …

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