The Opposite of Play

by Bernie DeKoven on March 9, 2007

(image found in Lee Stranahan’s weblog) Today’s FunCast is inspired by a quote from Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith, my friend for over 30 years now, and, as all of my friends, my personal mentor. A play-advocate who has brought more understanding, compassion, scholarship and original thinking to the study of play than Piaget or Huizinga, professor emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, and author of, among other things, The Ambiguity of Play. The quote: “The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.”

You have to be just a little bit of a rebel if you really want to have fun. You have to be doing something you’re really not supposed to be doing. Nothing really bad or hurtful or even really dangerous. Something slightly naughty. A little bad maybe. A tiny bit illegal.

Like playing where you’re not supposed to be playing, when you’re not supposed to be playing, with people and things you’re not supposed to play with. Or playing in a way you’re not supposed to. With maybe not exactly the “real” rules.

For some reason, no matter how old you are, if fun is something you really want to be having, you generally have to be doing something you shouldn’t be doing, really. That’s how you get to the liminal spaces, at the edges of acceptability, predictability, respectability.

So when people talk about bringing fun into the workplace or places of learning, it’s always just a little bit threatening, a little bit disturbing of the status of the quo.

And in places where such play becomes so threatening that it is rigidly, thoroughly disallowed, where this minor expression of playful illegality is systematically suppressed, you get depression. Deep, thorough, mind- and brain- and soul-numbing depression. In those places, work places, learning places, living places, you get the opposite of play.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


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