Play, you know, the thing we do when everything else is achieved! This painting (used by Dr. Stuart Brown in his TEDx Talk featured in my post Galahs Partake ) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1501, is entitled “Children’s Games” but if you look closely, not all of the characters are children, in fact there are many adults also at play. Brown asks what has happened to our society that such scenes are no longer part of our life style.
Brown believes that the root of losing play in our society is guilt. We have been well trained in our society to respect hard work at the cost of all else.
In the early 20th century the sociologist and philosopher Max Weber published his work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit Of Capitalism.” This work explores the link between work, religious belief and capitalism. Weber’s work was well received, and was commonly called “The Protestant Work Ethic.” Weber lays the responsibility for the drivenness towards capital and work at the door of the Calvinists who held that play was trivial, even ungodly (this from the same funsters who banned musical instruments in churches in the sixteenth century, and influenced the practice of locking up public playgrounds on Sundays). Sadly, this work ethic caught on, and capitalism blossomed in a particular way, a symbiotic relationship, that in my view is destructive on every level.
The result has been an ever demanding economy in which we consume as we are being consumed, body mind and soul, so long as we remain ignorant of the dilemma.
In a more mindful way we need to get in touch with our inner child, to be free to be creative in our own way and not to be drawn into perfectionist behaviours of fun. To be free to leave some things incomplete (which is an acknowlegement that one day we will leave everything complete, and others will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves). In one sense play and letting go has something to give us by way of living as we are aging and preparing for death, the ultimate letting go.
In the short term, play enables us, releases us, heps us reframe and is just plain healthy. We learn more about ourselves and others in play.
That old saying is true: “All work and no play makes Jack/Jill a dull person.” The painting by Brueghel is a reminder that adults used to have fun in simple ways, and perhaps, life was less dull.
In a confronting way, the Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister once recalled that when she was grumbling about cleaning floors while she could have been studying for her degree, the superior commented “You have all the time there is.” We all have time. Play must be a priority, it must be intentional. Go play 🙂
For an MP3 of Krista Tippett, at On Being, interviewing Stuart Brown for “Play, Spirit, and Character” (2007) go to Dr. Stuart Brown