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The question Gloria Macarenko asked that stumped me (even though I knew she would ask me)

Speaking to the wonderful Gloria Macarenko on CBC in an interview on play, I got stumped.

Gloria: This city is expensive. What do you say to people who say play is a luxury and one more thing they can’t fit into their lives as they try to survive?

What are some take-aways for how these people can bring more play into their lives?

Me: Good question. Uh, uhh play isn’t a luxury it’s a necessity if we don’t want to get stuck as society and as individuals. uh…


The short answer for some of the population.

  • Sing or dance in your car, seriously, so awkward to begin with and then it gets you out of numb auto pilot.

  • Dance in your house while you make dinner…same as above.

  • Stand up out of your chair. Play is relative.

  • Make a sound with your mouth.

  • Meet someone’s eyes (not the deep hippy stare, but take a moment and see someone).

  • Walk a bit slower down the street. I promise your nervous system will settle and you'll feel a bit lighter.

  • Have fake arguments with your partner.

  • Have real arguments with your partner but stay connected. Drop the defences.

  • Ask yourself before entering a meeting or gathering, "what if I believed everyone was here to play with me?"

  • See the silly as valid and necessary for staying alive (change your entire brain).

  • Take a different route to work. Put your shirt on differently. Ask your friend a different question.

  • Go to the park.

  • Go play sports.

The long answer for the rest of the population to whom the short answer sounds absurd.

Yes, play is a luxury.

Play is a luxury for those in CONNECTION TO OTHER HUMANS.

People can even be in fight or flight, however, if they're in CONNECTION TO HUMANS, they can still play.

Play is a luxury for people who feel safe, supported and connected to humans in their homes, workplaces and relationships. Absolutely.

Play is a luxury more likely afforded to those who spent the first 6 years of their lives, while their brains and nervous systems were forming, with caregivers that really got them (were CONNECTED to them).

Play is a luxury more likely granted to caregivers that are CONNECTED to a society that supports play and “hellos,” and babysitting, and nights spent on a porch shooting the shit and making music, and people that come when you cry “help!” and build you a barn.

“How can people play more in their lives?” is the wrong question.

It focuses on play, rather than the conditions that support play.

Play can't be manufactured with the "lighten up whip."

Let's not tell a city where people are struggling with the basics, such as housing, that they should play.

Let's not tell people that don't feel safe walking down the street that they should play.

Let's not tell a society that is scared to meet one another's eyes that they should play.

The right question, according to moi, is how do we make sure people feel supported and safe in this society.

Play comes easily with my friend who knows and accepts what I get freaked out about, and what is irrationally hard for me. It's easy when I know I'm ok and safe with her.

Play may come easier if I'm of an ethnicity that is not struggling to find safety day to day.

Play may come easier if I'm not of an ethnicity that has promoted independence and individualism as the ultimate symbol of strength.

This is a politicalsocialeconomicgenderraceenvironmentalphysiological question.

QUICK AND EASY (to write down on a page) DOS AND DON'TS

Don’t expect it to be easy. Don't tell your employees you want a hip and creative culture if you’re not willing to create a structure that truly supports them and honours their needs. Creating a playful culture in a job or relationship requires significant reflection, honesty and willingness to challenge deeply held values and beliefs.

Don’t use the "lighten up whip." Don't tell people to “lighten up." Just don’t. It’s at best naive positivity and at worst, gas-lighting.

Don’t swallow the "happy pill." It's the one that tells you you should be happy and it covers up the real honest thing that’s going on for you and the people around you. This stuff we're covering up is the stuff we need to "play" with. Pretending it's not there is hard on your body and makes for confused connections with people. Play is about possibility not positivity. Play requires honesty.

Do be more human and less super human. It's hilarious. You are hilarious. We are hilarious when we "let go" of "image management" and start to laugh at ourselves. We show up and there we find connection.

Do ask the question, what if these people were here to play with me? Where is the play in this interaction? Play is relative, and looks different in different situation. What makes me shake my head are "free and crazy" folks who then blame the rest of the world for not playing with them. Become really good at finding the game that IS being played and challenging it, inviting someone to it, or making it better.

Do be an equal opportunity employer of emotions (says David MacMurray Smith). Allow your emotions into the game. When kids play it's emotional. Actually, they figure their emotions out through play. If we cut out our emotions we're cutting out a large part of the material we have available for playing with...disgust, lust, surprise, anger, sadness, joy, agony, ecstasy. This is all good fodder for play.

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