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Book and Film Reviews, Philosophical Meanderings

Have you ever stopped playing?

Cross-posting from my personal blog as I believe this is relevant to this group and the readers of this blog too. I am looking forward to your feedback!

It felt like a very long day today — a failure on one of the servers at work almost led to loosing all our customer data! The fact it happened on a Saturday made things worse. Luckily, it all ended up well, but the day almost wore out by then. Still I felt uneasy — it didn’t feel right to finish with the bitter taste that panic, worry and grave seriousness through the day left in my mouth.

A glance through the window let me see the sun still shining and the evening inviting for a play outside with my older daughter. We both jumped on our bikes and off we went to visit the many playgrounds in our neighbourhood. This is when I realized I’ve been reaching out to play as a way to deal with stress and make me feel better ever since I’ve got my first daughter.

I haven’t thought about it until tonight, but I can’t remember doing many “playful” things since almost I was a child my self. I always led a fairly serious life, with great responsibility for my actions and thought that hard-working discipline is the only requirement for success. Not that I haven’t done things for fun, on the contrary, but play to me is when you have fun by being immersed with all the senses into something you do out of joy and without worrying if you “behave” for your age.

After a great deal of biking, monkeying around and just enjoying the few remaining hours of sun, I thought to end the day with a book. I have been really busy lately and my reading suffered, so I reached out to one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, knowing he will push my thoughts and make me see life and some of the stupidity of modern societies in new light. (If you haven’t read one of his classics, Fahrenheit 451, stop reading here — go ahead, get the book, read it and then come back!)

I picked up a collection of stories named We’ll Always Have Paris and started reading the first story — Massinello Pietro. With my mind still thinking about the value of play, the serendipity was too extraordinary! I’ll let Ray himself speak, without explaining what the story is about:

“Once, thought Pietro, once I had many dimes, many dollars, much land, many houses. And it all went away, and I wept myself into a statue. For a long time I couldn’t move. They killed me dead, taking away and taking away. And I thought, I won’t ever let anyone kill me again. But how? What do I have that I can let people take away without hurting? What can I give that I still keep?

And the answer was, of course, his talent.

My talent! thought Pietro. The more you give away, the better it is, the more you have. Those with talent must mind the world.

He glanced around. The world was full of statues much like he had been once. So many could move no longer, knew no way to even begin to move again in any direction, back, forth, up, down, for life had stung and bit and stunned and beat them to marble silence. So then, if they could not move, someone must move for them. You, Pietro, he thought, must move. And besides, in moving, you don’t look back at what you were or what happened to you or the statue you became. So keep running and keep so busy you can make up for all those with good feet who have forgotten how to run. Run among the self-monuments with bread and flowers. Maybe they will move enough to stoop, touch the flowers, put bread in their dry mouths. And if you shout and sing, they may even talk again someday, and someday fill out the rest of the song with you. Hey! you cry and La! you sing, and dance, and in dancing perhaps their toes may crack and knuckle and bunch and then tap and tremble and someday a long time after, alone in their rooms, because you danced they will dance by themselves in the mirror of their own souls. For remember, once you were chipped out of ice and stone like them, fit for display in a fish-grotto window. But then you shouted and sang at your insides and one of your eyes binked! Then the other! Then you sighed in a breath and exhaled a great cry of Life! and trembled a finger and shuffled a foot and bouned back into the explosion of life!

Since then, have you ever stopped running?

Never.”

You see, Pietro was once a successful businessman who worked hard for his wealth, but he lost all that and after a period of grief at his state, he decided to take his life back.

“Do you know what I did? I invested what little I had left in dogs, geese, mice, parrots, who do not change their minds, who are always friends forever and forever. I bought my phonograph, which never is sad, which never stops singing!”

Together with his pets and his always singing phonograph, he lived in his house — The Manger — and did lot’s of charity work to help poor, neighbours, the community around him. And he did that with a song and a cheerful smile on his face. Unfortunately, his neighbours didn’t appreciate the presence of so many animals in his house, nor the loud singing waking them up at four A.M. They put an end to all of that by putting Pietro in jail.

“On either side of the Manger that night it was quiet at one A.M. and it was quiet at two A.M. and it was quiet at three A.M. and it was such a loud quitness at four A.M. that everyone blinked, sat up in bed, and listened.”

I think it is time we all try to listen more — and we owe listening to ourselves the most! To the once little boys and girls who could play all day long and never get tired! To the children we supressed with all our seriousness and worries as we grew up to be adults and care more if we “behave” for our age then if we have fun — as age is no excuse to stop playing!

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About kima

Organizer: http://tedxkidsbc.com. Father. Agent of change. I learn for a living. Curiosity is my passion. Writing is my dream. I believe in the value of social media as a way to meet new people and love double espresso as a way to feel warm with old friends ;-)

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Have you ever stopped playing?

  1. Hey Kima, I’ve just finished a conference on “active listening” and the necessity of it for school leaders. I talked a lot about how listening feels in your body: relaxing, letting someone’s voice come into you, listening without judging or responding.

    How do you listen, and how is that related to play?

    Kirsten

    Posted by kirsten olson | May 1, 2011, 10:00 pm
    • Hey Kirsten,

      I think I can only muster a semi-coherent answer — or rather bunch of thoughts that your question made pop in my head.

      I had a chance to engage in discussions on “active listening” with few instructors during some of the leadership/mentoring/coaching trainings I had a chance to attend years ago. Upon reflection from those discussions, it makes me think that Charades would be a great metaphor for it ;-) True, the active listener should not try to “guess” someones feelings and thoughts, but rather “question” them to get better clarity and to show understanding and empathy, but the basic principle seems similar to me … would you agree?

      My feeling is that play, when it involves two or more people, is a more natural setting for questioning, understanding, collaborating … though it can also work for guessing, competing, navigating rules. It is also a safe way to try new things without fear of failure — unless we pin awards to it and turn it into a competition.

      Play also has a better chance in creating a relationship and improving the bonds between the people involved. I’ve attended many team building activities and all of them had a playful component — I wonder how did people figure out they can use play for team building?

      One thing we humans are really good at is to listen to ourselves. We’re usually the center of the Universe and we listen to the voice in our head so much that we often miss what others are saying to us. When engaged, though, and immersed into a fun activity or similar, our internal chatterbox seems to tune out and we start to listen. It is almost as if some ancient learning mechanism kicks in that switches our brain from a “drive” mode (in which going over the knowledge in our head and feeling confident in our opinion is important) into a “learn” mode (in which we’re open to new experiences and pay better attention to the outside world).

      Just as a thought experiment … what would you prefer if some of your friends had to confide something to you … them doing it over a game of squash? … or while sitting in a cafe? … do you think you can actively listen with little effort in each situation?

      Posted by kima | May 3, 2011, 3:53 am
  2. I think I’ve made some progress in learning playfully alongside students. How to become an adult who learns playfully with the other adults around me at work escapes me still.

    Any advice, Coöp friends?

    Best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 2, 2011, 9:26 pm
    • I am with you on that one Chad! Being playful around my own kids is a natural state in our home. When stepping outside, though, I can feel some inhibitions kicking in, though I think I am managing well to not let them come in my way. I also find my older daughter’s friends responding well when I behave with them in the same way as with my daughter. When it comes to adults, though, the inhibitions are simply too high :-(

      I remember when I was a kid I often joined my parents, their friends and the friends’ kids in BBQ and similar parties out in parks and similar. The adults always engaged with us kids in many things from playing soccer, to card games, to picking wild-berries or just hiding in the bushes. When I was in elementary school, some of our teachers would go out with us during recess and play soccer, baseball, volleyball or even tag. It seems when surrounded by kids, adults are able to deal with their inhibitions and put aside social norms for “appropriate” behavior and immerse into a play with kids and other adults. Maybe the answer to your question is “include more kids in your work!” ;-)

      Posted by kima | May 3, 2011, 4:05 am

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