Ultimate Peace in Israel, Day 2 and 3 in Denmark

Writing about an event involving Palestinian and Israeli children that was led by the Ultimate Peace initiative - an organization devoted to teaching kids of different cultures to play the sport of Ultimate Frisbee, Al Jazeera reporter Diana Worman notes:

"A sporting initiative like this will always attract its critics, especially at such a sensitive time in such a sensitive place, but the ultimate aim of this week is to allow kids to be kids, and to integrate, and learn with each other and to have fun."

So there they are in Israel, making this incredible thing happen between Palestinian and Israeli children, where they are bridging a cultural chasm, and at the same time being responsible, together, for keeping the game fair - and the big thing, the main thing is that they are having fun together.

Which reminds me about something I learned during Day 2 and 3 in Denmark, at the Lego Idea Conference and a follow-up meeting of Lego designers. I was there to lead participants in my Junkyard Sports Tabletop Olympiad. And, as you know, the game is jam-packed with "teachable moments" about teamwork and creativity, resourcefulness and innovation. And I learned from the participants that what really mattered, every time I played it, had nothing to do with the copiousity of opportunities to gather meaningful insights, and everything to do with how much sheer, all-embracing fun it allowed them to have together.

Link to the Al-Jazeera story came from Joey Grey

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Restoring Fun

Winding my way along a tree-lined, dirt-and-gravel "art walk" that winds its artful way past the Hotel Legoland, across a creek, through trees and, here and there, a remarkable sculpture, I paused by an overflowing trash basket, and caught the following train of thought:

It was the second or third time that I took this particular walk and passed this particular trash. And this time, just as I got near the trash, I was thinking about fun, and the patent absurdity of my stated purpose - namely to "make the world more fun." And this time, I guess because I was thinking about fun and the world, I was reminded of signs I saw in an Jerusalem park that I also walked through - signs that said something like "if you didn't clean it up, you made it dirty."

It was funny, and so was I. Every time I passed that unsightly spill of cigarette boxes and knotted bags of dog poop, it made my walk just a little less fun. And this time, thinking about fun, remembering that sign, I actually stopped myself, picked up the trash, and restored a little bit of the fun of that small part of the world and my walk. It wasn't that I had made it unpleasant. But I certainly had left it unpleasant.

And then I continued my walk. And because I was present enough to take on the responsibility, I was more present all the way back to the hotel. A certain, very definite sense of fun was restored to me, and to the people who wouldn't notice, but would appreciate the art path a little more.

Restoring fun. Being a guy who likes the play of everything, I just gotta love the play of meaning that those words create. The fun is itself restoring. The fun is itself restored, as was my fun, as was my self, as was my world.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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About Pointlessness

"The Sound and the Fury," the game I wrote about in my previous post, is what one might call an archetypically pointless game, similar in archetypical pointlessness to the games in a collection I have named "More Games of Dubious Purpose," insofar as a secondary characteristic of pointlessness is in fact purposelessness, as I describe with pointed obscurity in The Well-Played Game.

What originally attracted me to the word "pointless" was, naturally, the play on words. "Pointlessness" not only describes the reason for playing the games (no point, no reason, actually, other than the sheer fun of it all), but also something about the nature of the games themselves. Pointless games are not played for points, or, if they are, the score doesn't matter.

There's no way to predict what will make a pointless game fun. It's too open-ended. Without score, without even a goal, pretty much anything goes. It's the players who make the game fun. The absolute pointlessness of the game does something to people. It gives them a chance to take responsibility for making the game fun. Sooner or later, somebody does something so unpredictably funny, that you just have to laugh.

Pointless Games tend to put people into silly situations. For no reason. In the Sound and Fury game, people can really do anything they feel like doing - make any kind of sound, any kind of motion - and everyone else not only accepts whatever is done, but they do it, too. And so people make the game funny. Because they can. Because it's more fun. They do things that are funny. They make funny noises. Everyone does them too. And everyone laughs. In Ha Ha Numbers (the game in the photo) you lie on someone's stomach while calling out someone else's number while trying not to forget to respond when someone calls your number. In Hand Land people find themselves lying in a strange position (on their backs, ear-to-ear), looking at a funny world of disembodied hands. And they start playing around. Acting out. Wiggling fingers, touching thumbs, making their hands talk to each other, making it fun. The very pointlessness of the games shifts the responsibility from the leaders to the players, from following the rules to the play itself.

Which probably explains something about the origins of my interest in Pointless Games. The play itself. The theater. The improvisation. Masters degree, don't you know, in Theater, as a matter of fact. Villanova. 1968.

It was during the workshop I gave for the Laughter Leaders in Israel, some 15 years after I first started using the term "pointless," that I began to realize just how deeply the very pointlessness of pointless games can reach - all the way into bomb shelters, all the way into the actual dark night of the veritable soul. What could be more pointless than having to wait out something like a permanent war? More pointless than trying to get people to play when they are all so very far from fun?

Most of the people who call themselves Laughter Leaders have had training in Laughter Yoga. Laughter Yoga is a discipline, pursued for the sake of spiritual, physical and mental health. Like all forms of Yoga. In Laughter Yoga people laugh, not because they think things are funny, but because it's "good" for them. It's a wacky idea - laughing when you don't really feel like laughing. Which is probably why it works so well.

Many of the Laughter Leaders who found their way to my workshop had already discovered that Laughter Yoga was not enough. In places like the Middle East where there is so much to fear and so much more to be angry about, laughter is very hard to sustain. It takes too much effort to keep going. It's very hard to find a reason to laugh, even when it's just for the health of it.

Playing a game - especially a pointless game, when there is no reason, no score, no purpose - is somehow more appropriate, reflecting more accurately the wackiness of it all. It's better than boredom. Much more fun than wondering when and where the next bomb will fall.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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BagBall - how to make a ball out of plastic shopping bags

One of the sad truths of being in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, is the amount of, well, pollution. It's just not something you'd expect to see in the capitol, for heaven's sake, of the Holy actual Land!

One form of pollution comes from the proliferation of plastic shopping bags. They're everywhere. You can't go shopping without coming away with a half-dozen or so of these colorfully indestructible, everlasting wonders of modern technology. There are these large cages where you can recycle them. And the cages are often full. But there's the other part of the problem - most people ignore any attempt to keep the city clean. And there are attempts, believe me.

So, as a parting gift, this video, on how to make a ball out of plastic shopping bags.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Talking about fun in Israel - conclusions

As the last days of this visit approach, I have yet one more experience to share with you, perhaps the one that touched me most deeply - a 9-hour workshop I conducted with Laughter Yoga teachers.

It was focused on what I call "Pointless Games." I had designed it at the invitation of Laughter Yoga and Gibberish trainer Alex Sternik, as something that would be of interest specifically to Laughter Leaders in Israel. I called it "Games that make people laugh - a workshop in the art of sustainable silliness."

The workshop was attended by only a few people - we had eight altogether. But these were an exceptional few - highly energetic, deeply playful, totally committed to making people laugh. Participants included several other laughter leaders (here's Bat-Shachar's website), game facilitators and trainers, a meditation facilitator, a belly dancer, a magician named Caliostro (who was "the primary magician" performing for the Israeli army in the 80s) , a gym teacher, and Shiri Ben-Dov, who leads games and works with an organization that conducts bachelor parties. Each brought their entire being into play - personally, professionally, spiritually.

It's been a long time since I've shared the concept of Pointless Games that I worked/played with people who understood the idea so deeply, so quickly - not just the games, but the immense value of playing without purpose, without score, without excuse - of playing for fun.

For me, this was the experience of Israel I most needed. For all the insecurity, the fear, the hatred, the violence, the worry, the passion, the crowding, the traffic, the sheer intensity of life here - even in the middle of a war - I found people here who welcomed the comparatively small gifts of funny games. I found Israelis who have affirmed with their very lives the wisdom of things like peace and laughter and the power of play, and who bring these very experiences to everyone they can reach - Jew, Arab, Israeli, Palestinian.

During this long/short stay I often felt, well, foolish, in thinking that I could help bring fun to Israel in a time of war. And here, near the end of my stay, I discover these people. True champions of baseless, purposeless laughter. Fun-bringing Israelis all.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Talking about Fun in Israel, cont'd

A few days ago, I got to talk about Junkyard Sports with some key people at the Peres Center for Peace.

Once I learned that despite the images and rumors and rage beyond reason, there are people who are working with undiminished passion to create peaceful, even playful dialogue between Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians.

Yes, it's become far more challenging. Yes, it's difficult to get people to want to play together. Of late, they tell me, especially when meeting with adults, people are too impatient to play. Anything that seems like fun gets dismissed out of hand. People want action, resolution, they want to be heard, they don't want to, if you'll excuse the expression, play games.

On the other hand, the people I met with, leaders of the "Twinned Peace Sports Schools" and "Twinned Peace Theater and Cinema Schools" and the "Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum," each and all recognized the need to bring yet more play into their offerings, yet more creativity, more spontaneity, more fun.

The Conversation

So I talked most about idea of Junkyard Sports, because it seemed to me that this concept could prove the most flexible, the most adaptable, the most fun. I showed them the news clip from the Junkfest we did at Redondo Beach. I gave them a 5-minute demo of The Junkyard Tabletop Olympiad. And they understood it all - implications and applications. Just about immediately.

The sports people talked about how easily sports can transcend culture. One reported how, as a child, he had played his own junkyard sports. His associate, being raised in a kibbutz, described how that's how the kids played almost all the time - using junk, making up their own rules. I mentioned how valuable it would be, just if kids knew how they could make a really good ball out of some of the thousands of plastic grocery bags that have become ubiquitous throughout Israel. The director of Culture and Media saw what a powerful community event it could be: green, fun, celebrating ingenuity, engaging creativity at all levels. The person who organized the meeting and leads the NGO forum, was naturally concerned about how adults would respond to this kind of experience. So I talked about the uses of Junkyard Sports in a training environment, described how it was being used in Southwest Airlines, and specifically in light of the kinds of conversations that might result after people had created and played a Junkyard Sport together.


It may not yet be the time, and fun probably isn't going to solve anything. There will be challenges - like bridging the differences between language, culture, dogma. But I somehow knew that these people who are very much looking for the opportunity to teach peace, to heal anger, to build community, to bring more fun into the world - wouldn't let anything stop them. Even in Israel. Even now. Maybe especially now, especially in Israel.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Limits of Fun - more notes on talking about fun in Israel

So, what have I learned so far about bringing more fun to Israel?

I'm glad you asked.

First of all, it's not such a good time for fun in Israel, as well as in general. Not when people are busy dealing with the Gaza thing. And the money thing. And the job thing.

As for the Gaza thing: if you're Jewish or Palestinian, it was a violence that was done to you, even if the violence was not your doing - a deep, shocking, deafening violence that was so thunderous you can't hear much of anything else - your family, maybe, your neighbors, your friends. You certainly can't hear anything that comes from the "other side." Not love, not grief, not caring, not explanation, not apology, not words of peace. And most definitely not play.

Play is one of those words that can only be spoken in a "still, small voice," that in times like these can be only be heard over the din of war by children and puppies. The rest of us have to wait for quiet, inside and out. Even clowns can't make themselves loud enough. Even people like the Israeli group called "Pharsh-the official military of the silly revolution" (thanks for the link, Pat Kane), or the "laughter therapists" you nevertheless might find doing their work in the bomb sheters in S'deroth; can't be silly enough to change anything - not right now.

But they're doing their work, nevertheless. And so, apparently, am I. Thanks to Alex Sternick, I'll be conducting my first Games and Laughter workshop, specifically for Israeli laughter therapists, giving them a chance to learn a few funny games, so they can give people a few more reasons to laugh. Like I said - nevertheless. Even though there is no reason. Except maybe sanity.

Teaching laughter, fun, games, play - it's a funny kind of work, a funny kind of gift we have to bring. Not anything that you might call a "cause." Not anything that you might think of as revolutionary. And yet, something having very much to do with peace, after all.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Fun Also Rises

This is not an easy place for me to be, not an easy time. In Jerusalem, at a time of war. Where people like the very people I love, like my very own family, are just as convinced as they are of God, that this war is necessary, justified, just.

Just like in Gaza. Just like in America.

It is an especially hard time and place for me to be talking to people, even the people who love me, who are blood-deep connected to me, about fun. Such a weak, silly thing to believe in, to teach about, compared to the dead seriousness of things like war. Bill Moyers has a very clear and moving essay about all this, about being here, Arab, American, Israeli, Iraqi, so very far beyond fun.

Yet, I'm finding people here who want to know about making things fun again, some of them, even desperately. I'll be meeting with the one of the principals of one of the schools called "Hand in Hand," where Arab parents and Israeli parents, together with Arab teachers and Israeli teachers are not letting the fun stop. I've had meetings with visionaries and entrepreneurs at PresenTense, with business leaders and soon with fund raisers and laughter therapists - Israelis, all of whom somehow believe that it can be, has to be, more fun than this.

It's funny, in a way. Here, at the borders of sanity, just where the fun stops, it leaks through. Here, hidden from the press of fear, from the din and clamor of hate, just like life does from death, the fun also rises.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Talking about fun in Jerusalem, cont'd

Charlie Kalech arranged for me to meet with some of his clients and colleagues today to conduct a short symposium on The Fun of Work. Needless to say, a fun and deep dialogue ensued.

The highlight, naturally, was when we played a game. The game: Tabletop Biathlon, of course. (What you might call "Tabletop Olympics" when played with two teams. I've come to regard this game as one of my personal best. Every time I play it, I learn something else about fun and work and people and life and stuff.)

Pictured here is Charlie, sitting next to a waste basket, holding a paper airplane and a paper ball - the key elements of one of the two sports developed for the Tabletop Biathlon. Both events (the other, business card bowling) were exactly what I had hoped they would be - innovative, a bit silly, and most definitely fun. The paper airplane game involved trying to throw a paper airplane into the basket, whilst opposing athletes tried to knock it away with paper balls. It is today's featured game because it was developed in Israel. The connections to current Israeli events are too obvious to point out. And the subsequent laughter too profound to convey.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Talking about fun in Jerusalem, part one

This is not an easy time to talk about fun in Jerusalem, especially now, given Gaza. Nevertheless, like most Israelis, there's an implicit agreement - not to ignore the war, but to go on with life as usual, given what passes for usualness here.

So I've been meeting with a rather random collection of people who responded to my son's posts appearing in several local social networking sites about my Israeli sojourn. In these posts my son mentioned that I'd be in the area, without any particular agenda, ready to talk with anyone who was interested in fun.

Last week, I gave a brief presentation at what I was to discover was a remarkable Coworking environment called "PresenTense" - remarkable, not only because it was a genuine Coworking environment (a well-equipped facility in which high-tech nomads can get connected in as many ways as they see fit, online and off), but even more remarkable because it is the same organization that also publishes a magazine devoted to bringing together the stubbornly fragmented poles of the Israeli community. And even more remarkable because of my involvement with something alo called Coworking, and my ongoing commitment to building community through play. The connections were too many and too profound to ignore. We had a wonderfully challenging conversation about fun - spontaneous, responsive, surprisingly deep - talking about things like the psychology of flow, the connections between the play community and the work community, and how to deal, in a fun way, with a boy friend who won't help with the dishes.

One of the participants, a man named Charlie Kalech, wrote a blog post, reflecting on our conversation. His post is wonderfully reflective, and sensitive, and I leave you with it, for the fun of it. I meet tomorrow with Charlie and a group of executives for further explorations of fun and work, via a game of Junkyard Olympics. More about that later.

P.S. - that game that Charlie played with his employees, I remember playing that before at NASAGA - it was really a remarkable experience. Do you happen to know where that game comes from?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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