The Death Of The Playground

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Kurt Behm was a typical, middle class baby-boomer kid growing up in the 1950s. While playing ...
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Kurt Behm was a typical, middle class baby-boomer kid growing up in the 1950s. While playing badminton with his

Sister in the back yard, he tried to retrieve a shuttlecock (birdie)

that got stuck up in one of the pine trees which separated the woods from his backyard. His Mothers aluminum clothespole was his weapon of choice.

Again and again he threw it up into the tree with no success,

until all at once it looked like the 4th of July. Fire and sparks

were everywhere. The aluminum clothes pole had threaded itself

between the electrical wires that ran hidden through the trees.

It was now acting as a conductor between all three wires, creating

an effect his father later compared to Guadalcanal.

The ensuing fire burned the woods completely to the ground.

A year later and amidst the charred remains, his township had the foresight and the vision to turn that rubble into what every red-blodded boy of that era dreamed of having for himself ............. a Playground.

Kurt's life from then on would never be the same
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781438937151
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 2/24/2009
  • Pages: 180
  • Product dimensions: 0.56 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt


How the loss of 'Free-Play' has affected the Soul of Corporate America

By Kurt Philip Behm


Copyright © 2009 Kurt Philip Behm
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4389-3714-4



Emergency Board Meeting:

Proposed Cuts- 5 Branch offices, 3000 Jobs

Net Effect- Short term gains to appease the shareholders

True Cost- Permanent impact on 3000 lives for temporary gains

Sitting alone in his chair at the end of the long table, Max leaned back and closed his eyes. The last of the board members were long gone and the room was quiet and dark. His mind now drifted back as it often did to the security of his youth. He was mentally and spiritually now back in his playground.

The big county-wide basketball championships ended tomorrow and his team had made it to the final game. He received a phone call tonight from a kid who lived in another neighborhood, offering to play for Max's team in the championship game. This kid was a township all-star and would virtually assure Max's team of winning the trophy. To do this Max would have to let one of his players go.

Billy, who was the weakest player on the team, was also the one who worked the hardest. No one had given more of themselves to get the team to where they were now. To let the new kid play, Max would have to let Billy go. Did he really want the championship that much? Could he look into those eyes and then live with that feeling forever? Was he man enough to do the right thing?

Max's team lost that championship game the next day, but Billy was voted the most valuable player. He had one point, the result of being fouled and making one shot out of two when the game was out of reach. They lost the county championship that day but walked away with something much bigger as a team.

It was Billy who would finally win, and on a national level. Ten years after that county game he captained two 'Special Olympic Basketball Teams' to national championships. When they presented him with the team trophy Max was standing by his side. He was prouder in that moment of Billy than in anything he had ever accomplished on his own. Who knows what would have happened to Billy had he been dropped from that playground team so many years ago. Max said the feeling at the awards dinner that night when the moderator spoke about Billy was beyond measure.

Max and Billy remained the best of friends for thirty more years. Max would often visit Billy at his group home and had a backboard and rim installed for him behind their house. Beyond measure, is what Max saw in Billy's eyes the night he died in October of last year. Beyond measure, is the damage the board was asking him to approve just to appease the shareholders.

He opened his eyes and leaned forward in his chair. He now knew what he had to do.

Although not created there, the soul of a company can be lost or saved in its boardroom. Inside those heavily paneled walls its directors should be a beacon, guiding their companies to new wealth and prosperity. This should be their finest hour. Character should never come under question or attack. Their integrity should be above reproach. If these board members were born before 1960, there's a good chance of that being true. If they spent their youth on a public playground, there's a better chance still.

Three years later with his company intact, Max merged with his largest competitor. All current employees were now part of the new company and shareholder value was increased four fold. Making the right decision in the quiet darkness of that empty boardroom was the right thing to do. No longer vilified, Max is now considered a visionary and leader within his Industry.



It's mine, no it's mine. BANG!

The red truck sat in the middle of the sandbox as both boys watched and waited intently. Ultimately, Davey reached for the Truck first as Kurt then made his own move to claim it for himself. The collision happened at Mid-Box, and a mighty tug-of war then ensued. Davey and Kurt struggled to claim the most basic of male adolescent proprietary entitlements, the right to say ................. 'that's mine!'

In a Titanic battle for control, they pulled the Truck back and forth between themselves. Davey swung first and smacked Kurt as they battled for the Truck in the sand. Kurt retaliated by grabbing Davey's hair, and now both Mother's were screaming and frantic and caught up in the middle of the Toddler's skirmish.

What was only a moment ago a very peaceful scene had denigrated to life at its most basic level. As they separated the two combatants, and wrested the Truck away from both Boys, Kurt and Davey made real eye contact for the first time.

The Fire in their eyes turned from anger to wonderment, and then to broad smiles, as they recognized each other for the first time for who they really were. They were two Men on the way to doing manly things! As their Mother's made profuse apologies to each other, the eye contact between Davey and Kurt remained unbroken.

In the confusion of the sudden conflict, both Mothers seemed to be on the verge of nervous breakdowns, but all Kurt and Davey could do was smile.

This was their genesis. This seemingly innocent test of wills, and the courage to defend it, foretold at the most basic level what would happen to both boys in only five short years. In five years they would both be at the Playground, and Mom wouldn't be around.

On this day though, in our little park and all over America, it was hard to know how much greatness was really birthed in those Sandboxes.



The Pull was too strong. The swings and the sandbox too timid. We had to get to that Pond.

My Mother was a Tomboy and Athlete, who grew up during the Great Depression. She was the oldest child of a working class family and she had married well. In 1952 she was living the American Dream, and I was 4 years old. She had Captained her high school basketball team, and now she and her best friend Mary were coaching basketball at a local Women's college

She was a 'Jock'

She believed that boys should be 'rough and tumble' and in May of 1952 took me to the playground for the very first time. My young life would never be the same.

The small park at the end of our street had Swings and a Sandbox, but of most interest to a 4 year old was the Pond. As my Mother pushed me on the swings, and played with me in the sand, my mind and my eyes could not stay off that Pond. My Mother wasn't a great swimmer so she tried very hard to keep me away from the water, but the harder she tried, the more I wanted to break away from her safety net and explore that Pond.

In the Ponds reflection I saw my future, not in so many words or in something I could tell her at the time ............... but I just knew.

I knew even then that life had to have adventure, and Mother's have a tendency to filter that out with their protective instincts. I also knew that adventure was going to be even better if it was shared, and better still if shared with my best friend Davey Hill. Our Mother's were good friends, and that friendship would spell opportunity for Davey and I.

On this day, Davey and his Mother had been building a sand castle in the far right corner of the sandbox. Davey's Mother would fill the bucket with sand, wet it, and turn it upside down to form the turrets of a castle. As soon as the new turret was set, little Davey would annihilate it with a big jump and crash landing, ending up butt first on top of the wet formed sand.

I wanted some of that. I wanted it bad, and I wanted to do it with Davey.

This was the first shared 'lesson' I learned in the playground. It was how to get out from under our Mom's security blankets, and even to be a little devilish right in front of them. It was a conscious act of breaking away and asserting our independence. But even more than that, it was a way to make Davey laugh, because now I knew the secret too.

There was now a space inside both of us that only the company of men could ever fill. That day, while crushing sand castles, we could feel a coming-of age, a time when all boys were going to be at the playground.

We couldn't wait for it to be our turn.

The rest of that afternoon our Mother's tried to lure us back to the safety of the swings and the sandbox, but for us there was only one real place to be, and that was the Pond. In the beginning, Davey and I would only marvel at our reflections, intertwined, side by side on the Ponds surface. We became one in our pursuit of independence, and there would not be one inch of that Pond that we wouldn't eventually explore.

There was an old wooden bridge over the Pond that we would hang from, dangling our feet in the water and occasionally falling in. It was cold, it was dark, and it was magic. Most of all, it was what our mothers didn't want us to do. You could hear our shared understanding of this in the tenor of our boyish laughs, as our Mothers yelled and tried to chase us off that bridge.

We just knew ................... we were really onto something !

Later in life that Pond came to represent what the more timid of the boys in our group feared. It had no rules like a jungle gym or a swing-set, and had its own unwritten set of challenges. After my Parents moved to a 1960's post WW2 subdivision, the 'Pond' in our new Playground was an old barn that was leftover from the farm that had been there before.

It was big, it was dark, and it had many secret doors and passageways that we loved to explore. We would push each other down its grain chutes, jump from its hay lofts, and the bravest of us would climb up to the cupola on the top of its roof. Several of the less daring boys would never come inside, but for the rest of us, in the looming presence of that old barn, our shadows grew.

Years later when starting a new job I always tried to locate the company 'Pond'. It was always the road less traveled, or that impossible project or account that no one could sell. I always felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up when a seasoned company veteran explained to me why their particular Pond could not be crossed.

At moments like that, my mind was instantly transported back to the Playground, and my soul came alive!



Big Guys above, and little Guys below, the Ladder had to be climbed.

The Ladder was the backbone of every Playground. It was the ascending series of challenges and initiations that tested all boys, ages 8 to 15. It had 8 rungs which had to be climbed and was the very structure the Playground was built on. You might have been short, or even worse slow, but you still had to try.

Trying, and its ugly stepchild failure, measured you as you climbed the Ladder. Trying your best always pointed you in the direction upward, where older and more advanced boys had gone before. Their helping hands were always there to pull you up, or catch you if you fell, with the occasional motivating slap as each rung of the ladder was either made or lost.

How many of today's executives appreciate every rung of their corporate ladder, recognizing each step as essential for them to succeed? How many take the time to create a perpetuating environment where the new can flourish and recognize the road-signs to success? How many executives realize that it's the game itself, played well, fairly, and as a group that gives a company its identity. Without a strong corporate identity, it's hard to create an atmosphere of excellence, where a workforce can maintain an ongoing level of success!

Too often we compete with blinders on, resulting only in self-centered tunnel vision. To those around us, this makes us seem arbitrary, self-aggrandizing, and concerned only with ourselves. To truly win, we must win together, as a country, as a family, and as a corporation.

The Ladder of Success in the Playground instilled that ethic!

As a squirt, which was the entry-level position at the Playground, you may have been the last one picked, but you were in the game. You may have been called 'butterfingers' but you could learn to block. The Playground exacted its own system of value, and trying and teamwork were at its very heart.

How hard you were willing to try, and your acceptance by the guys win or lose, was what forged your playground identity. Trying and never giving up were absolutely necessary if you were ever going to get to that top rung. You might someday become famous as the President of I.B.M., but your Playground identity would outlive it. You carried it from the inside out. Nicknames became badges of honor that were earned by your Playground exploits. They were personal, they had special meaning, and they belonged to you and you alone. With sweat, and maybe a few broken bones you had earned them. Forever, the nicknames still linger in the air above the Playground, ready to be summoned again if the spirit fails. Go back and visit yours as I often do mine; close your eyes and remember. You will hear them too!

In the Playground, we had our own language with its own meaning. 'Slowpoke' may have been the fastest kid in the park, and 'Slim' may have been the heaviest, but it worked for us. We fi nished each other's sentences, told each other's jokes, and exaggerated in the extreme about our Athletic conquests. We did this until our noses were longer than our dreams, and then we laughed.

We laughed a lot !

It was a society of inclusion, where kids played all the parts. Th e team was the thing. We fought among ourselves, but never in front of guys from another neighborhood. How many young corporate executives could duplicate this team strength and loyalty inside their own company's today. How many even try to be a functioning part of the group, putting the greater good of all ahead of their own.

Where were their Playground's?

All of these great things happened to us in the Playground without any active parental supervision. Dad was at work and Mom was at home, but for a short time every afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday, we were the new centurions. Our Playgrounds were governed by a time honored tradition and rite of passage. Those traditions are what made it special, respect for them is what made it work! We understood the Playground instinctively and the Playground understood us. We were accepted! We weren't just tolerated or put up with as in 'Children should be seen and not heard'. Inside its gates we had status, and we knew we were special!

It might look small and overgrown today, but in our world the Playground was large and full of promise. It was the promise that kept us coming back. We climbed its ladder and dreamed its dreams, always returning the next day to be considered 'one of the guys,' one of the Playground 'regulars.' We knew we could all be Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle if we just practiced a little harder. The Playground made us feel like we always had a shot. What could be better than that? Every kid back then could grow up to be President.

At least in his dreams.


1-Walking thru the Gate: Letting go of Mom's hand and making your entrance.

2- Sitting and Watching: You're seating place along the sideline was important and defined your status as a squirt. As you proved your mettle, you got to sit closer to the action. From here you could chase a loose ball or retrieve a football that went into the creek. These were cherished things to a squirt.

3- Identifying the power structure: You had to know who was at the top, middle and bottom of the Playground hierarchy. This would help you avoid costly mistakes as you climbed higher, and serve as a guidepost on your way to the top.

4- Learning the rules: Both the formal and sometimes more importantly the informal rules, lead to acceptance into the group. Loyalty, learning to keep secrets, and the willingness to share would go a long way toward your becoming a valued member. Learning with your mouth closed and your ears open went a long way too.

5- Finding your own personal 'Big Guy' or mentor: You really hoped one of the older Guys would take you under his wing. This would elevate you in status, and put you on the fast track to success.

6- Evaluating your strengths: How did you stack up against the other guys? This was constant, and gave you an ever-changing 'barometer' as to how you were developing as an athlete, and an all around good kid. The biggest legend to come from my Playground had the slowest start, but he never quit. You just had to stay with it.

7- Creating your Playground 'Rep': This took years and would glorify your place in Playground history, a history that was almost always immortalized and 'carved in the tree.'

8- Leaving something behind and sharing what you learned: You had to be willing to give back to the never ending new round of 'Squirts' and transfers that kept the Playground fresh and vibrant. You were now a part of the permanent record, a vital link between present and past



At less than ten gallons an hour, the little hose fought a futile battle against the raging fire, but the little fireman would not give up.

When I was 8 years old I burned down the woods behind my house. The entire woods! The aftermath of this fire, and I assure you it was unintentional, would eventually become our Playground.

It started one evening when my sister and I were playing Badminton in the back yard. We used to think it was great fun to hit the shuttlecock as hard as we could, and watch it travel through the pine branches overhead, coming down hopefully on the other side of the net. Regularly the 'birdie' would land in one of the tall pine branches that overhung our net, temporarily calling a halt to the game.


Excerpted from THE DEATH OF THE PLAYGROUND by Kurt Philip Behm. Copyright © 2009 Kurt Philip Behm. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted July 16, 2009

    A MUST read for all ages!

    As a woman, business professional and Gen Xer I found the "Playground" refreshingly honest and right on the money. It is unfortunate that the simple lessons of our childhood are often lost as our career's develop. For those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed the luxury of 'free-play' the "Playground" reminds us that we have the responsibility to pass on these teachings to those around us. The soul's of today's corporations could be revived if only the lessons of the "Playground" were embraced by its leaders. I plan to give the "Playground" a voice in my future staff meetings and would encourage others to do the same. Easy to read and definitely a resource I plan to re-visit whenever I feel its teachings getting too far away!

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