Why I am a Play Advocate


Father’s Day, 2018

In my writings I usually don’t get all philosophical on you, but as today is Father’s Day, forgive me if I go a bit afield.

At his trial for questioning the official deities of his community and asking his students to question authority, Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Since this was essentially a political trial, the meaning of this statement in its context points out that living under the rules of others without questioning is to live an empty life. However there is surely more to life than analysis.

In contrast, the philosophy of Epicurus sites three components. As with Socrates he holds that thinking things through is important. But he goes on to include freedom and companionship as also essential.

What does this have to do with play?

Play is the wellspring of what we know as freedom, for as children, our play is intrinsically driven, children cannot be forced to play. Play is where we learn to be social and have the capacity to form deep connections with others. And it is through play that we begin to develop the mental tools for self-reflection.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of play advocates. Note: I said “play advocates” not, advocates for play, as there are many of people who, on occasion, promote the benefits of play. No, I mean people like the late Bernard DeKoven, who devoted their entire career to play. One would think that the subject of play, as the foundation of happiness and conducting a meaningful life, should be top of mind for the whole of society, but is sorely lacking. I am proud to be a member of this tiny club and I’m taking this subject on today as the opportunity to, once again, speak for the transformative power of play.

When we play together there is no bullying, no hate, no them and us. And, hey, it’s also great exercise for the body and the mind. I’m not being factious here, I cannot think of any circumstance that is not improved with playfulness.

Imagine reaching back to those childhood times at play. What’s to prevent you from bringing that same state of being forward into your life today? Does “taking life serious” make it any better, any richer? Are you more or less successful when you engage with life playfully?

I first painted “flying Jamie” on the wall in my bedroom when I was ten years old. The picture above was done when I was in art school. This has been my talisman throughout my life. I’m sorry to say that the pains encountered in life all too often made it seem like I had to be serious. But when I deviated away from being playful I lost my power.

It’s never too late. Play On! Bbbrrrrrooom!

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