Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Playing for Peace

Adapted from a snippet found in Rob Brezsny’s wonderful book: Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia, p. 149

Psychiatrist Stuart Brown sees ‘play’ as important to peace and as integral as a human organising principle. He defines play thus:

“Play is spontaneous behaviour that has no clear-cut goal and does not conform to a stereotypical pattern. The purpose of play is simply play itself; it appears to be pleasurable.”

In a study of 26 convicted murderers, Brown discovered that as children, most of them had suffered either “from the absence of play or abnormal play like bullying, sadism, extreme teasing, or cruelty to animals.”

Brown’s work led him to explore both the biological roots and social importance of play.

“New and exciting studies of the brain, evolution, and animal behaviour suggest that play may be as important to life—for us and other animals—as sleeping and dreaming.”

—Stuart L. Brown, “Animals At Play”, National Geographic, December 1994. Brown’s website is (excerpt below)

Perhaps more scientists, soldiers and statesmen should learn to play? :-)

The following is excerpted from the site’s page on Preventing Violence

“Our minds need relaxation and will give way, unless we mix with work a little play.” —Moliere.

Just the Facts, Ma’am
Shine a beacon on the landscape of human violence and the terrain looks varied, complicated, and bleak. We see gangs, drive-by shooters, baby-shakers, wife-beaters, teen-age rampage murderers, road ragers, ethnic terrorists, abusive bigots, and a seemingly endless parade of criminals primed for mayhem.

No wonder we jump at the chance to do something, do anything: gun-locks, gun control, longer prison sentences, more policing, neighborhood watches, Mothers Against Drunk Driving legislation, anti-violence educational courses in schools. Of course there’s no single answer. We’re looking for effective tools.

We at the Institute for Play believe that society is failing to recognize the substantial benefits of a fundamental organising principal of human behaviour. This principal, by its nature, prevents violence by preemptively developing positive, cooperative coping skills. It also blows off steam.

We know that people who commit serious acts of violence generally have lacked a healthy play life. They don’t develop competent social skills, which are learned in the give and take of play. When stressed, play-deprived kids are limited to a narrow range of responses. When confronted with situations that provoke, entrap or humiliate, they are likely to react impulsively, often in violent ways, instead of responding with humor, irony, or other non-violent means.

What’s Play Got To Do with It?
Playing develops a repertoire of responses readily available when situations inevitably arise. Students who have committed unexpected, large-scale violent acts in schools in the past few years seem to have had little in common, making prediction of future acts difficult. For example, Kip Kinkel in Oregon was psychotic, and the boy who killed his teacher in Florida was considered by his community to be a “normal” boy. Looking below the surface, their backgrounds had several things in common. First, healthy play had not been a part of their upbringing. Second, they were regularly and frequently humiliated by peers. And third, they were able to get guns and ammunition .

Play is part of our basic human nature. We are biologically designed to play throughout our entire life cycle, starting in infancy. Once a child is safe and well fed, she/he inevitably will play. In early infancy, play begins as the mutually engaging, joyful rhythmic, verbal and physical activity that occurs after feeding. It reinforces the foundations of trust between parent and child, and is universally pleasurable. Older babies develop more complex play signals such as smiling, cooing, and clowning that interlace joy with continuing complex socialization.

Layers of Learning
If there is no play, trust and skill in communicating mutual pleasure just doesn’t develop. If play is minimal or contains conflicting signals, social skills are not integrated or refined. Verbal and body language, safety and danger, freedom and boundaries are discovered and practiced repeatedly during infant and child play. So play is basic and necessary for full development. Aggression, anxiety, mixed signals or indifference from parents, caretakers, and teachers stops the development of optimism, hope, and playfulness. Depression, fearfulness, and cynicism grow in their place.

Openness of one’s heart to others is enhanced through the joy of play. Play-deprived kids are more vulnerable to impulsive behavior when over-stimulated by TV, video games, the emotions of others, or their own easily-aroused emotions. The rewards of learning or mastering a new game teaches us by experience that perseverance is rewarding. Perseverance is a trait necessary to healthy adulthood, and it is learned largely through play. Perseverance and violence are rarely found together.

Able Children
The 10 year-old child who feels capable at play is not likely to become a violent teen. As we grow and play, we learn to navigate with grace and ease through many varied situations and challenges of ordinary life. To develop health and balance, we must learn to manage our aggressive impulses. Authentic playfulness can be used in family and school interactions to defuse the serious, brooding emotions that can lead to violent acts. It can also help teachers and parents keep their balance and patience when overwhelmed by normal energetic, adolescent behavior.

Play and Community
The ability to act cooperatively and respond to authority in good faith and with good cheer needs to have been learned by the end of adolescence. We are a social species and we each need to be part of a community. Cooperation is learned in the rough-and-tumble pretend games kids love to play like ring around the rosy, tag, and follow-the-leader. How to take your lumps, survive group inclusion, exclusion, and deal with the local bully, are also learned on the playground. Organized sports, depending on the way they are structured, can provide good lessons in coping with intense feelings which otherwise might become violence against others.

Play arouses curiousity, which leads to discovery and creativity. It develops adaptability and flexibility, which are fundamental to positive, proactive behavior. The ability to take on responsibility, find meaning in life, and perhaps discover our personal bliss require a full measure of play. Other valued qualities developed through regular play include empathy, compassion, the capacity for intimacy, imaginative problem solving, and humour.

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This entry was posted on 4 September, 2006 by in Politics and Psychology, Poverty.

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"